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Maintaining grain yields of the perennial cereal intermediate wheatgrass in monoculture v. bi-culture with alfalfa in the Upper Midwestern USA

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 September 2018

Nicole E. Tautges*
Agricultural Sustainability Institute, University of California-Davis, One Shields Avenue, Davis, CA 95616, USA
Jacob M. Jungers
Department of Agronomy and Plant Genetics, University of Minnesota, 411 Borlaug Hall, 1991 Upper Buford Cir., St. Paul, MN 55108, USA
Lee R. DeHaan
The Land Institute, 2440 E. Water Well Road, Salina, KS 67401, USA
Donald L. Wyse
Department of Agronomy and Plant Genetics, University of Minnesota, 411 Borlaug Hall, 1991 Upper Buford Cir., St. Paul, MN 55108, USA
Craig C. Sheaffer
Department of Agronomy and Plant Genetics, University of Minnesota, 411 Borlaug Hall, 1991 Upper Buford Cir., St. Paul, MN 55108, USA
Author for correspondence: Nicole E. Tautges, E-mail:


Intermediate wheatgrass (Thinopyrum intermedium; IWG) is a perennial cereal crop undergoing development for grain production; however, grain yield declines of >75% are often observed after year 2 of the perennial stand and may be linked to soil nutrient depletion. Intercropping IWG with a perennial legume such as alfalfa (Medicago sativa) could benefit nutrient cycling while increasing agroecological diversity. Intermediate wheatgrass was established at five environmentally diverse sites in Minnesota, USA in (1) bi-culture with alfalfa, (2) non-fertilized monoculture and (3) monoculture fertilized annually in the spring with 80 kg N/ha. At northern sites where alfalfa growth was favoured, IWG grain yields were reduced in year 2 by growing IWG in bi-culture with alfalfa, relative to the monoculture systems. Across all sites IWG grain yield decreased by 90% in the non-fertilized monoculture, 80% in the fertilized monoculture and 65% in the bi-culture from year 2 to 4 and plant macronutrient concentrations decreased by 25–70%. In year 4, IWG grain yield was similar or greater in the bi-culture than the fertilized monoculture at three of the five sites and alfalfa biomass was correlated positively with grain yield, harvest index and nutrient uptake in the year 4 bi-culture. Chemical-nitrogen fertilization increased grain yields in year 2 but did not mitigate the decline in yields as stands aged. Intermediate wheatgrass in the bi-culture had similar yields and nutrient uptake and lower yield declines than the chemically fertilized stand at sites where alfalfa growth was maintained throughout the life of the stand.

Crops and Soils Research Paper
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2018 

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