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Current conventional agricultural fertilization practices emphasize early season applications of large amounts of inorganic nitrogen to crop fields. Rain and irrigation can cause nutrient leaching in these low nitrogen use efficiency systems, leading to aquatic hypoxia. Denitrification results in emissions of the potent greenhouse gas nitrous oxide (N2O), and harmful NOx gases. Cover cropping presents a more ecologically sound solution to these problems, but requires plowing that can result in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions ans damage to the soil biome, and economic losses from longer rotations. Intercropping of main crops with legume cover crops may be an option for applying nitrogen while reducing leaching, emissions, and rotations. This experiment sought to find if belowground nitrogen added from a defoliated clover cover crop would be absorbed by intercropped maize plants. From May to September of 2012, maize was grown on 52.9 m2 of land at the Bard College Farm in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York under three treatments: conventionally fertilized, clover intercropped, and untreated. Results were mostly inconclusive, likely due to soil heterogeneity and lack of nitrogen stress within maize plants. Further studies should focus on conducting experiments on well-established, homogenous soil, and maize plants should be seeded at densities more likely to induce nitrogen stress. More research on intercropping with leguminous cover crops could improve nitrogen addition practices while avoiding the problems associated with current methods.
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Gero, Justin T., "Effects of a Maize-Crimson Clover Intercrop on Nitrogen Content and Grain Yield" (2012). Senior Projects Fall 2012. 43.
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