Skip to main content Accessibility help

Effect of management and age of ploughed out grass–clover on forage maize yield and residual soil nitrogen

  • M. Cougnon (a1), K. Van Den Berge (a2) (a3), T. D'Hose (a4), L. Clement (a2) (a3) and D. Reheul (a1)...


Forage maize (Zea mays L.) is often grown year after year on the same land on many intensive dairy farms in north-west Europe. This results in agronomical problems such as weed resistance and decline of soil quality, which may be solved by ley-arable farming. In the current study, forage maize was grown at different nitrogen (N) fertilization levels for 3 years on permanent arable land and on temporary arable land after ploughing out different types of grass–clover swards. Swards differed in management (grazing or cutting) and age (temporary or permanent). Maize yield and soil residual mineral N content were measured after the maize harvest. There was no effect on maize yield of the management of ploughed-out grass–clover swards but a clear effect of the age of grass–clover swards. The N fertilizer replacement value (NFRV) of all ploughed grass–clover swards was >170 kg N/ha in the first year after ploughing. In the third year after ploughing, NFRV of the permanent sward still exceeded 200 kg N/ha, whereas that of the temporary swards decreased to 30 kg N/ha on average. Soil residual nitrate (NO3) remained below the local, legal threshold of 90 kg NO3 N/ha except for the ploughed-out permanent sward in the third year after ploughing (166 kg NO3 N/ha). The current study highlights the potential of forage maize – ley rotations in saving fertilizer N. This is beneficial both for the environment and for the profitability of dairy production in north-western Europe.


Corresponding author

Author for correspondence: M. Cougnon, E-mail:


Hide All
Borrelli, L, Castelli, F, Ceotto, E, Cabassi, G and Tomasoni, C (2014) Maize grain and silage yield and yield stability in a long-term cropping system experiment in Northern Italy. European Journal of Agronomy 55, 1219.
Bretz, F, Hothorn, T and Westfall, P (2010) Multiple Comparisons Using R. Boca Raton, FL, USA: CRC Press.
Cerrato, ME and Blackmer, AM (1990) Comparison of models for describing corn yield response to nitrogen fertilizer. Agronomy Journal 82, 138143.
Christensen, BT, Rasmussen, J, Eriksen, J and Hansen, EM (2009) Soil carbon storage and yields of spring barley following grass leys of different age. European Journal of Agronomy 31, 2935.
Claerhout, S, Reheul, D and De Cauwer, B (2015) Sensitivity of Echinochloa crus - galli populations to maize herbicides: a comparison between cropping systems. Weed Research 55, 471481.
De Cauwer, B, Rombaut, R, Bulcke, R and Reheul, D (2012) Differential sensitivity of Echinochloa muricata and Echinochloa crus - galli to 4-hydroxyphenyl pyruvate dioxygenase- and acetolactate synthase-inhibiting herbicides in maize. Weed Research 52, 500509.
D'Haene, K, Salomez, J, De Neve, S, De Waele, J and Hofman, G (2014) Environmental performance of nitrogen fertiliser limits imposed by the EU Nitrates Directive. Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment 192, 6779.
Djurhuus, J and Olsen, P (1997) Nitrate leaching after cut grass/clover leys as affected by time of ploughing. Soil Use and Management 13, 6167.
Eriksen, J (2001) Nitrate leaching and growth of cereal crops following cultivation of contrasting temporary grasslands. Journal of Agricultural Science, Cambridge 136, 271281.
Eriksen, J, Pedersen, L and Jørgensen, JR (2006) Nitrate leaching and bread-making quality of spring wheat following cultivation of different grasslands. Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment 116, 165175.
Eriksen, J, Askegaard, M and Søegaard, K (2008) Residual effect and nitrate leaching in grass-arable rotations: effect of grassland proportion, sward type and fertilizer history. Soil Use and Management 24, 373382.
Eriksen, J, Ledgard, S, Lou, J, Schils, R and Rasmussen, J (2010) Environmental impacts of grazed pastures. Grassland Science in Europe 15, 880890.
Flemish Land Agency (2015) Standards and Directives for N and P Fertilization. Brussels, Belgium: VLM. Available at (Accessed 29 November 2017).
Franzluebbers, AJ, Sawchik, J and Taboada, MA (2014) Agronomic and environmental impacts of pasture–crop rotations in temperate North and South America. Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment 190, 1826.
Goidts, E and Van Wesemael, B (2007) regional assessment of soil organic carbon changes under agriculture in Southern Belgium (1955–2005). Geoderma 141, 341354.
Hansen, JP, Eriksen, J and Jensen, LS (2005) Residual nitrogen effect of a dairy crop rotation as influenced by grass-clover ley management, manure type and age. Soil Use and Management 21, 278286.
Hansen, EM, Eriksen, J and Vinther, FP (2007) Catch crop strategy and nitrate leaching following grazed grass-clover. Soil Use and Management 23, 348358.
Johnston, AE, McEwen, J, Lane, PW, Hewitt, MV, Poulton, PR and Yeoman, DP (1994) Effects of one to six year old ryegrass-clover leys on soil nitrogen and on the subsequent yields and fertilizer nitrogen requirements of the arable sequence winter wheat, potatoes, winter wheat, winter beans (Vicia faba) grown on a sandy loam soil. Journal of Agricultural Science, Cambridge 122, 7389.
Kayser, M, Seidel, K, Müller, J and Isselstein, J (2008) The effect of succeeding crop and level of N fertilization on N leaching after break-up of grassland. European Journal of Agronomy 29, 200207.
Lory, JA, Russelle, MP and Peterson, TA (1995) A comparison of two nitrogen credit methods: traditional vs. difference. Agronomy Journal 87, 648651.
Nevens, F and Reheul, D (2001) Crop rotation versus monoculture; yield, N yield and ear fraction of silage maize at different levels of mineral N fertilization. NJAS-Wageningen Journal of Life Sciences 49, 405425.
Nevens, F and Reheul, D (2002) The nitrogen-and non-nitrogen-contribution effect of ploughed grass leys on the following arable forage crops: determination and optimum use. European Journal of Agronomy 16, 5774.
Piutti, S, Romillac, N, Chanseaume, A, Slezack-Deschaumes, S, Manneville, V and Amiaud, B (2015) Enjeux et contributions des prairies temporaires pour améliorer la fertilité des sols. Fourrages 223, 179188.
R Core Team (2013) R: A Language and Environment for Statistical Computing. Vienna, Austria: R Foundation for Statistical Computing.
Seidel, K, Kayser, M and Isselstein, J (2004) Nitrate leaching from reseeded grassland: the effect of season, technique of renewal and former N fertilisation. Grassland Science in Europe 9, 349351.
Sleutel, S, De Neve, S, Hofman, G, Boeckx, P, Beheydt, D, Van Cleemput, O, Mestdagh, I, Lootens, P, Carlier, L, Van Camp, N, Verbeeck, H, Vande Walle, I, Samson, R, Lust, N and Lemeur, R (2003) Carbon stock changes and carbon sequestration potential of Flemish cropland soils. Global Change Biology 9, 11931203.
Sleutel, S, De Neve, S, Singier, B and Hofman, G (2006) Organic C levels in intensively managed arable soils – long-term regional trends and characterization of fractions. Soil Use and Management 22, 188196.
Van Den Pol-van Dasselaar, A, Aarts, HFM, De Caesteker, E, De Vliegher, A, Elgersma, A, Reheul, D, Reijneveld, JA, Vaes, R and Verloop, J (2015) Grassland and forages in high output dairy farming systems in Flanders and the Netherlands. Grassland Science in Europe 20, 311.
Van der Straeten, B and Deuninck, J (2016) Agronomic Value of Crops (In Dutch: Landbouwkundige Waardering van Gewassen). Brussels, Belgium: Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries of the Flemish Government.
Van Eekeren, N, Bommelé, L, Bloem, J, Schouten, T, Rutgers, M, de Goede, R, Reheul, D and Brussaard, L (2008) Soil biological quality after 36 years of ley-arable cropping, permanent grassland and permanent arable cropping. Applied Soil Ecology 40, 432446.
Verloop, J, Boumans, LJM, Van Keulen, H, Oenema, J, Hilhorst, GJ, Aarts, HFM and Sebek, LBJ (2006) Reducing nitrate leaching to groundwater in an intensive dairy farming system. Nutrient Cycling in Agroecosystems 74, 5974.
Vertès, F, Hatch, D, Velthof, G, Taube, F, Laurent, F, Loiseau, P and Recous, S (2007) Short-term and cumulative effects of grassland cultivation on nitrogen and carbon cycling in ley-arable rotations. Grassland Science in Europe 12, 227246.
Vertès, F, Jeuffroy, M, Louarn, G, Voisin, A and Justes, E (2015) Légumineuses et prairies temporaires: des fournitures d'azote pour les rotations. Fourrages 223, 221232.
Vinther, FP (1998) Biological nitrogen fixation in grass–clover affected by animal excreta. Plant and Soil 203, 207215.
Vos, J and Van Der Putten, PEL (1997) Field observations on nitrogen catch crops. I. Potential and actual growth and nitrogen accumulation in relation to sowing date and crop species. Plant and Soil 195, 299309.
Webster, CP, Poulton, PR and Goulding, KWT (1999) Nitrogen leaching from winter cereals grown as part of a 5-year ley–arable rotation. European Journal of Agronomy 10, 99109.



Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed