Cereal rye (Secale cereale L.) is widely used as a winter cover crop to conserve soil residual nitrogen (N) in the mid-Atlantic region of the United States. Cereal rye, however, has agronomic drawbacks that may make other winter small grain crops more desirable alternatives. Winter wheat (Triticum aestivum L.) is a small grain that could substitute for cereal rye as a cover crop because it would give growers the flexibility of using it as a cover crop or growing it to maturity. There is currently little information on early season N accumulation of winter wheat cultivars, which is critical for the success of a small grain cover crop. To determine the degree of variation in early season N accumulation and early season biomass yield in soft red winter wheat in the mid-Atlantic region, twenty-five commercially available cultivars were evaluated at Beltsville, MD in the 1996/1997 and 1997/1998 growing seasons. A cereal rye cultivar ('Wheeler') was included as a cover crop control. Samples of plant tissue were taken at Feekes growth stage 5 and at physiological maturity each year. There were significant differences among cultivars for early season N accumulation and biomass yield. A large group of wheat cultivars had similar early season N accumulation and biomass yield as the cereal rye cover crop control. This suggests that some cultivars of winter wheat may be as effective as cereal rye as a winter cover crop. Early season N accumulation was highly correlated (r = 0.90***) with early season biomass yield rather than with plant N content. These results indicate that soft red winter wheat has potential as a dual grain and cover crop and could be considered an alternative to cereal rye as a winter cover crop for conserving residual soil nitrogen in the mid-Atlantic region of the United States.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Agronomy and Crop Science