Nitrogen management strategies for mixed pastures in the Winelands sub-region of the Western Cape

Bester, Carien (2014-04)

Thesis (MScAgric)--Stellenbosch University, 2014.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: Three different pasture mixtures were established under irrigation at the Elsenburg research farm with the aim of devising nitrogen (N) management strategies for pastures in the Winelands sub-region of South Africa. The pasture mixtures were as follows: i) a mixed grass pasture consisting of perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne), tall fescue (Festuca arundinaceae) and cocksfoot (Dactylis glomerata); ii) a grass-clover pasture consisting of perennial ryegrass, tall fescue, cocksfoot and red and white clover (Trifolium pratense and Trifolium repens); and iii) a grass-lucerne pasture consisting of perennial ryegrass, tall fescue and lucerne (Medicago sativa). The effect of fertiliser N on selected nutritive characteristics was also evaluated. The grass-legume pastures were subjected to two management strategies: the once-off application of N and the consecutive application of N over the autumn-early spring period. The reaction of the mixed grass pasture to applied N was mostly characterised by an interaction between the season of N application and N application rate. The productivity of the pasture in terms of the primary dry matter production (PDMP) and the total dry matter production (TDMP) was highest in spring and summer with the application of 60 – 80 kg N ha-1, and decreased in autumn and winter. There was a strong response of the winter residual dry matter production (RDMP) to N, which indicated that not all applied N was utilised during the first regrowth cycle, which might present a risk of nitrate being leached below the root zone. The botanical composition of the mixed grass pasture was determined by season of N application, and not N application rate. The tall fescue content was low over all seasons, presumably due to poor establishment and strong competition from accompanying species. In the cooler months perennial ryegrass and tall fescue was the dominant species, while in the warmer months cocksfoot was the main species. Nitrogen application also had a significant effect on the quality of the pasture, most notably the crude protein (CP) content. The response of the CP content was characterised by a strong interaction between season of N application and N application rate. Crude protein levels in excess of 22 % were recorded in autumn and winter with the application of 40 – 80 kg N ha-1. Other characteristics remained within the expected range. The response of the grass-clover and grass-lucerne pastures in terms of productivity and nutritive characteristics were mainly determined by the season of N application, and not N application rate. Productivity tended to be highest in autumn and early spring for both the once-off and the consecutive N application strategies, emphasizing the effect of temperature on pasture growth. The effect of season of N application and the N application rate on the botanical composition of the respective pastures were inconsistent over the two years of the study. The clover content tended to decrease in response to increasing rates of N, while the grass fraction was stimulated. Lucerne productivity decreased from autumn through winter and reached minimum levels in early spring, and was unaffected by fertiliser N rate. The legume component in both the grass-clover and grass-lucerne pastures remained above recommended levels of 20 – 40 % for optimum animal production, even when N was applied consecutively. The nutritive characteristics measured (dry matter (DM) content, CP, in vitro organic matter digestibility (IVOMD)) remained within the expected range, except the total CP content which was very high in the first year (> 30 %), although N application rate did not have a significant effect. Based on these findings, preliminary recommendations for N fertilisation (on low carbon soils) for a mixed grass pasture is 40 kg N ha-1 during autumn and winter and 60 kg N ha-1 in spring and summer. Based on the poor response of the grass-legume pastures to applied N it is doubtful whether fertilisation will lead to an economical advantage, but low rates of approximately 40 kg N ha-1 could be beneficial in a grass-clover pasture during autumn and late winter/early spring based on the relatively strong response of PDMP to N during this period.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Drie verskillende weidingsmengsels is onder besproeiing te Elsenburg proefplaas gevestig met die doel om stikstof (N) bestuurstrategieë te ontwikkel vir aangeplante weidings in die Wynland distrik van die Wes-Kaap van Suid Afrika. Die weidingsmengsels was as volg: i) ‘n gemengde gras weiding bestaande uit meerjarige raaigras (Lolium perenne), langswenkgras (Festuca arundinaceae) en kropaargras (Dactylis glomerata), ii) ‘n gras-klawer weiding bestaande uit meerjarige raaigras, kropaargras, langswenkgras, wit - en rooi klawer (Trifolium pratense en Trifolium repens), en iii) ‘n gras-lusern weiding bestaande uit meerjarige raaigras, langswenkgras en lusern (Medicago sativa). Die effek van stikstof bemesting op sekere kwaliteitsaspekte van die onderskeie weidings was ook geëvalueer. Die gras-peulplant weidings was onderworpe aan twee bestuurstrategieë, naamlik die eenmalige toediening van N en die agtereenvolgende toediening van N bemesting tydens die herfs – lente periode. Die reaksie van die gemengde gras weiding op N bemesting was hoofsaaklik gekenmerk deur ‘n interaksie tussen die N bemestingspeil en die seisoen van N toediening. Die produktiwiteit van die weidings i.t.v. die primêre droeëmateriaal produksie (PDMP) en die totale droeëmateriaal produksie (TDMP) was die hoogste in die lente en somer met die toediening van 60 – 80 kg N ha-1 en het in herfs en winter afgeneem. Daar was n sterk respons van die winter residuele droeëmateriaal produksie (RDMP) teenoor N, wat aandui dat nie alle toegediende N tydens die eerste hergroei periode benut was nie en dus ‘n moontlike risiko van loging inhou. Die botaniese samestelling van die gemengde gras weiding was deur die seisoen van N toediening bepaal, en nie die N bemestingspeil nie. Die langswenkgras inhoud was baie laag in alle seisoene, vermoedelik a.g.v. swak vestiging en sterk kompetisie van gepaardgaande spesies in die mengsel. Tydens die koeler seisoene van die jaar was meerjarige raaigras en langswenkgras die dominerende spesies, terwyl kropaargras tydens die warmer maande gedomineer het. Stikstof toediening het ook ‘n betekenisvolle effek op die kwaliteit van die weiding gehad, veral die ru-proteien (RP) inhoud. Die respons van RP was weereens gekenmerk deur ‘n betekenisvolle interaksie tussen die seisoen van N toediening en die N peil. Ru- proteien vlakke hoër as 22% was tydens herfs en winter waargeneem met die toedieningspyle van 40 – 80 kg N ha-1. Ander kwaliteits- eienskappe het binne normale perke gebly. Die respons van die gras-klawer en gras-lusern weidings in terme van produktiwiteit en kwaliteitseienskappe was hoofsaaklik deur die seisoen van N toediening bepaal, en nie deur die N bemestingspeil nie. Die produktiwiteit was die hoogste tydens herfs en vroeë lente vir beide die eenmalige en die herhaalde N toedieningsstrategieë. Hierdie bevindinge beklemtoon die belangrike effek van temperatuur op die groei en produksie van weidingsgewasse. Die effek van seisoen van N toediening en N peil op die botaniese samestelling van die gras-peulgewas weidings was inkonsekwent oor die twee jare van die studie. Die klawer-fraksie was geneig om af te neem soos wat die N peil toegeneem het, terwyl die gras-fraksie toegeneem het. Die lusern-inhoud het van herfs tot lente afgeneem en was ongeaffekteer deur die N peil. Die peulgewas-inhoud van beide weidingsmengsels was deurentyd hoër as die voorgeskrewe minimum vlak van 20 – 40%, selfs met opeenvolgende N-toediening. Die kwaliteitseienskappe gemeet in die studie (droeëmateriaal (DM) inhoud, RP en in vitro organiese materiaal verteerbaarheid (IVOMV)) het binne normale perke gebly, behalwe die totale ru-proteien (TRP) inhoud wat baie hoog was tydens die eerste jaar (>30%), alhoewel dit nie deur die N peil beinvloed was nie. Aan die lig van bogenoemde bevindinge is die voorlopige aanbeveling vir N- bemesting (op lae koolstof gronde) van ‘n gemengde grasweiding 40 kg N ha-1 tydens die herfs en winter en 60 kg N ha-1 tydens lente en somer. Gebasseer op die swak respons van die gras-peulgewas weidings op toegediende N, is dit twyfelagtig of N toediening enige ekonomiese voordeel vir die boer sal inhou. Gebaseer op die relatiewe sterk respons van die gras-klawer PDMP op toegediende N tydens herfs en laat winter/vroeë lente kan dit moontlik voordelig wees om lae N-vlakke van ongeveer 40 kg ha-1 tydens hierdie seisoene toe te dien.

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