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Relay-intercropped forage legumes help to control weeds in organic grain production

European Journal of Agronomy
DOI: 10.1016/j.eja.2013.04.002
  • Weed
  • Winter Wheat
  • Intercropping
  • Cover Crop
  • Medicago
  • Trifolium


Abstract In organic grain production, weeds are one of the major limiting factors along with crop nitrogen deficiency. Relay intercropping of forage legume cover crops in an established winter cereal crop might be a viable option but is still not well documented, especially under organic conditions. Four species of forage legumes (Medicago lupulina, Medicago sativa, Trifolium pratense and Trifolium repens) were undersown in six organic wheat fields. The density and aerial dry matter of wheat, relay-intercropped legumes and weeds were monitored during wheat-legume relay intercropping and after wheat harvest until late autumn, before the ploughing of cover crops. Our results showed a large diversity of aerial growth of weeds depending on soil, climate and wheat development. The dynamics of the legume cover crops were highly different between species and cropping periods (during relay intercropping and after wheat harvest). For instance, T. repens was two times less developed than the other species during relay intercropping while obtaining the highest aerial dry matter in late autumn. During the relay intercropping period, forage legume cover crops were only efficient in controlling weed density in comparison with wheat sole crop. The control of the aerial dry matter of weeds at the end of the relay intercropping period was better explained considering both legumes and wheat biomasses instead of legumes alone. In late autumn, 24 weeks after wheat harvest, weed biomass was largely reduced by the cover crops. Weed density and biomass reductions were correlated with cover crop biomass at wheat harvest and in late autumn. The presence of a cover crop also exhibited another positive effect by decreasing the density of spring-germinating annual weeds during the relay intercropping period.

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