Crops SmartNews

Legumes can provide enough nitrogen to feed crops, field trial shows

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In a recent Mississippi State University Cover Crop Variety trial, what at first looked like a disaster became an opportunity to see how leading varieties of nitrogen-fixing legumes performed in the challenging growing conditions of the Mississippi Delta.

While the purpose of these studies may be to see the impact on the soil, the real story of this recent cover crop trial was water.

Greater than normal precipitation during the fall planting period pushed planting back until November. Then, extreme flooding during the trial left only Starkville, Mississippi, viable out of its multiple locations.

University trials offer farmers a chance to see how various cover crops perform under extreme local conditions. Helping to identify those varieties better suited to the challenges growers face.

fixation-balansa-clover-production
Image courtesy of GO Seed

Nitrogen-fixing cover crop that pays

Despite flooded fields, FIXatioN Balansa Clover thrived in the sandy soil, producing 142 pounds of nitrogen per acre, outperforming all other varieties and species.

While nice for anyone interested in raising vibrant crops, this benefit is especially important for those eager to reduce synthetic fertilizers to increase their profitability.

According to Mississippi State University, FIXatioN Balansa Clover fares well because it has a good cold tolerance and is adapted to a variety of soils. This clover even deals well with waterlogging, which would explain why it soared to the top of the list.

The top three nitrogen-producing varieties were:

  • FIXatioN Balansa Clover with 142 lbs./A of total nitrogen
  • Dixie Crimson Clover II with 120 lbs./A of total nitrogen
  • Frosty Berseem Clover with 104 lbs./A of total nitrogen

Researchers also calculated a market economic value for each variety using the average seed price plus $13 per acre for planting cost and an estimated fertilizer cost of $0.43 per pound of nitrogen.

  • FIXatioN Balansa Clover generated $60.9 lbs. N
  • Dixie Crimson Clover II generated $51.40 lbs. N
  • Frosty Berseem Clover generated $43.30 lbs. N
Top-nitrogen-producers-branded
Image courtesy of GO Seed

Grow your own nitrogen

Some researchers estimate that half of synthetic nitrogen is washed away or converted into a gas before the plant can use it.

Legumes represent a more stable and efficient form of nitrogen, one attached to the soil that doesn’t leach below the corn root zone.

There’s value in thinking outside the box and best of all, you don’t have to go it alone.

American farmers increased their cover crop acreage by almost 50 percent between the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 2012 and 2017 Census of Agriculture. A jump from 10 million acres to more than 15 million acres.

Many of these innovative farmers are fantastic resources and can be found at your local soil health event or online in local Facebook Groups.

To learn more about any of the varieties trialed by Mississippi State University, read the full Mississippi Cover Crop Variety Trials, 2020.


This article was written by GO Seed and is published as part of AGDAILY’s focus on cover crops. 

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Any views or opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect those of AGDAILY. Comments on this article reflect the sole opinions of their writers.