The effect of sowing date on cover crop biomass and nitrogen accumulation
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Cover crops are important tools for reducing nitrogen (N) leaching from the soil and improving the nutrition of cash crops. In northern regions with short autumns it is important to maximise the growing season of cover crops to achieve sufficient biomass and N accumulation. The objective of the study was to evaluate the biomass and N accumulation of cover crops at different sowing dates in August. Field experiment at Estonian Crop Research Institute was conducted in 2017 and 2018 with white mustard (Sinapis alba L.), phacelia (Phacelia tanacetifolia Benth), buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum Moench), berseem clover (Trifolium alexandrinum L.), field pea (Pisum sativum L.) and faba bean (Vicia faba L.). Cover crops were sown on August 3, 8, 14 and 18 in 2017 and August 3, 8, 13, 17 and 23 in 2018. The two year experiment showed that biomass and N accumulation of cover crops were reduced with delayed sowings, but the reduction mainly depended on cover crop species. White mustard, field pea and faba bean accumulated significantly higher amount of biomass and N than phacelia, buckwheat and berseem clover at all sowing dates in both years. Because of a rapid decrease in biomass, the optimum sowing time for phacelia and buckwheat should not be later than middle of August. In both year berseem clover produced the modest amount of biomass and therefore more suited as spring sown cover crop in Estonian conditions.