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Reducing competition in forage maize intercropped with tall fescue through herbicides, plant types, and sowing density
Agronomy for Sustainable Development  (IF5.832),  Pub Date : 2021-07-09, DOI: 10.1007/s13593-021-00707-x
Mathias Cougnon, Pieter Frenne, Dirk Reheul

Forage maize is the predominant crop in the intensive dairy farming regions of Europe. This crop, however, is associated with considerable nitrate leaching and decreasing soil organic matter concentrations. Catch crops installed after maize harvest can usually only be sown late in the growing season in North-West Europe to tackle these problems efficiently. Intercropping maize with grass species such as tall fescue has the potential to result in a timely developed grass sward before the winter, capable of assimilating important quantities of carbon and soil residual nitrogen and to buildup soil organic matter. Yet, the intercropped grass might compete with the maize for water and nutrients. Here, we report, for the first time, the effect of (i) herbicide combinations, (ii) tall fescue sowing density and method, (iii) tall fescue morphotype, and (iv) the maize maturity group on the functioning of forage maize intercropped with tall fescue. We assessed maize and intercropped tall fescue yields and studied the N uptake and the effect on soil residual nitrate of the intercropped grass. We found that every kg dry matter ha−1 of tall fescue aboveground dry matter, present at the end of the autumn, came at a cost of 1.4 kg dry matter ha−1 of maize dry matter yield. Herbicide treatments can regulate grass-maize competition, whereas lower sowing densities of the intercropped grass or different sowing methods of the intercropped grass had no effects. Despite the superior winter growth of the Mediterranean tall fescue morphotype compared to the continental tall fescue, the reduction in soil residual nitrate was similar for both morphotypes. We demonstrate that tall fescue intercropped in maize can be an alternative to cover crops installed after the harvest of maize, to reduce nitrate leaching, and to compensate for the soil organic matter losses associated with forage maize production.