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Research article2024Peer reviewedOpen access

Effects of spring and autumn tillage, catch crops, and pig manure application on long-term nutrient leaching from a loamy sand

Norberg, Lisbet; Aronsson, Helena


A field experiment with separately tile-drained plots was established on a sandy loam soil in 1993 to investigate management practices that can reduce nutrient leaching. Practices tested included timing of tillage in autumn or spring (ploughing with or without preceding cultivation) and catch crops in systems with mineral fertilizer alone or in combination with pig manure. Drainage water from each plot was collected separately and analyzed for total nitrogen (tot-N), nitrate-N (NO3-N), total phosphorus (tot-P), phosphate-P (PO4-P), and potassium (K). Biomass of catch crops, soil mineral N content, and yield of the main crop were also determined. The experimental set -up was modified after 14 years, but the core research questions were the same and the results from the two periods (1993-2006, 2007-2021) were comparable. Spring tillage and undersown catch crops (perennial ryegrass, Lolium perenne L.) reduced tot-N leaching and concentrations in drainage water compared with autumn tillage. However, a combination of spring tillage and catch crop increased tot-P leaching and concentrations in drainage water compared with autumn tillage and no catch crop. Use of pig manure increased tot-N leaching and concentrations in drainage water compared with treatments without pig manure, both with and without a catch crop. Treatments without a catch crop showed substantial growth of biomass during autumn in terms of weeds and volunteer plants, but growing a catch crop resulted in more biomass in most years. A catch crop was more effective in reducing N leaching than only weeds and volunteer plants, probably mainly due to its ability to survive winter and take up and store N over a longer period. Leaching of K increased with a catch crop, while the other treatments did not influence K losses. Yield of main crops was not affected by the different treatments.


Cover crops; Experimental design; Long -term experiment; Nitrogen; Phosphorus; Potassium

Published in

European Journal of Agronomy
2024, Volume: 156, article number: 127156