Do mixed-species legume fallows provide long-term maize yield benefit compared with monoculture legume fallows?

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The deliberate planting of fast-growing N2–fixing legume monoculture species in rotation with cereal crops can be an important source of N for soil fertility replenishment. We hypothesized that mixed-species fallows have a higher potential of giving long-term residual benefits in terms of biomass, nutrients, and quality of residuals leading to long-term nutrient supply to postfallow maize (Zea mays L.) crops. To test these hypotheses, two experiments were established in farmers' fields on very fine Kandiudalfic Eutrudox soils with monoculture and mixed-species fallows. Treatments included: sesbania [Sesbania sesban (L.) Merr.], crotalaria (Crotalaria grahamiana Wight and Arn.), pigeonpea [Cajanus cajan (L.) Millsp.], siratro [Macroptilium atropurpureum (DC.) Urb.], and calliandra (Calliandra calothyrsus Meissn.) as monoculture-species fallow and mixture fallows of sesbania + crotalaria, sesbania + pigeonpea, sesbania + siratro, or sesbania + calliandra compared with continuous maize cropping with or without N fertilizer, and natural weed fallow. Total aboveground biomass ranged from 4.1 to 20.5 Mg ha–1 for monoculture and 7.8 to 23.3 Mg ha–1 for mixed-species fallows. Recyclable fallow biomass N ranged from 70 to 313 kg ha–1 and there was a positive interaction in some mixtures leading to increased N accumulation. Postfallow maize yields for fallows over five cropping seasons were 161–272% or 61–103% higher when compared with continuous maize without or with N fertilizer, respectively. Long-term postfallow effects on maize yield were linearly related to the amount of recycled fallow N yield. Thus, choice of fallow species to mix should be primarily driven by a better risk management strategy and an increased basket of multiple products and services.

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