The effects on a winter wheat test crop of a preliminary year of winter or spring field beans (Vicia faba), winter oats, winter oilseed rape, winter or spring peas (Pisum sativum), winter wheat, spring lupins (Lupinus albus), spring sunflowers (Helianthus annuus) or a cultivated fallow were compared in three 2-year experiments on clay-with-flints soil at Rothamsted from 1986 to 1989. In one experiment, autumn-sown ryegrass (Lolium perenne) and an uncultivated fallow, given weedkiller, were also included in the first year. Plots of test-crop wheat were divided to compare no N fertilizer with an optimal amount estimated from a predictive model.
Amounts of take-all (Gaeumannomyces graminis) in the test crop of wheat following wheat were very slight in the first experiment, but large in the second and third. All the break crops reduced takeall to none or very slight amounts.
Amounts of NO3-N in the soil in autumn after the first-year crops ranged from 7 to 95 kg N/ha. On average, they were least after oats, and most after cultivated fallow. In autumn 1988they were least after autumn-sown ryegrass. In early spring, amounts of NO3-N were generally less, ranging from 7 to 55 kg N/ha, depending on preceding crops, sowing date of the wheat and the weather. Amounts of NH4-N in soil were little affected by preceding crops or weather and were generally smaller in spring.
The estimated average N fertilizer requirement of test-crop wheat following winter wheat was
230kg N/ha. This was increased by 10 kg N/ha following winter oats, decreased by 40 kg N/ha after spring peas and by 30 kg N/ha after winter rape, winter peas, spring beans and cultivated fallow. Other preliminary crops not represented every year had effects within this range.
Grain yields of test-crop wheat given optimal N averaged 7·2 t/ha after winter wheat, c.1·5 t/ha less than the average after most of the break crops. The yield after oats was limited by self-sown ‘volunteers’ and that after ryegrass by limited soil N after ploughing.
Of the break crops tested, winter and spring beans, winter oats, winter rape and spring peas all gave satisfactory yields. A farmer should choose between these on the basis of local farm circumstances and current economics of the break crops. Differences between effects on take-all and savings on fertilizer N were too small to influence this decision.