Light and moisture competition effects on biomass of red clover underseeded to winter wheat

Red clover (Trifolium pratense L.) use as an underseeded cover crop in winter cereals has declined due to inability of growers to consistently establish uniform stands. The objective of this study was to assess the effect of light and soil moisture competition on underseeded red clover establishment and end of season dry matter production. Field trials were conducted at multiple locations in 2005 and 2006 in Ontario, Canada. Wheat (Triticum aestivum L.) N rate (67 and 135 kg N ha–1) and row thinning treatments (19-cm rows, every third 19-cm row removed at the 4–5 leaf stage) were used to alter light penetration and soil moisture competition. The high N rate and row thinning treatments consistently reduced light penetration, beginning as early as wheat stem elongation initiation, but had no effect on soil gravimetric moisture content. Soil moisture was primarily affected by location and year. Red clover dry weight in 2005, a relatively dry year, ranged from 688 to 1184 kg ha–1, and in 2006, a relatively wet year, ranged from 2336 to 2805 kg ha–1. Average final red clover stand count was 23 plants m–2 in 2005 and 55 plants m–2 in 2006. In 2005, plant mortality occurred before wheat anthesis. In both years, and at most locations, red clover final dry weight was positively correlated with light penetration, again beginning as early as initiation of wheat stem elongation. Final red clover dry weight in both years and red clover stand count in 2005 were correlated with soil gravimetric water content during wheat anthesis, but this was primarily due to location and year effects. Although both light penetration through the wheat canopy and soil moisture influence biomass production of underseeded red clover, soil moisture has the greater influence and is altered very little by wheat management.

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