Termination method and time of agro-ecological service crops influence soil mineral nitrogen, cabbage yield and root growth across five locations in Northern and Western Europe

Margita Hefner, Stefano Canali, Koen Willekens, Peter Lootens, Pauline Deltour, Annelies Beeckman, Donatienne Arlotti, Kalvi Tamm, Ingrid Bender, Rodrigo Labouriau, Hanne Lakkenborg Kristensen

Onderzoeksoutput: Bijdrage aan tijdschriftArtikelpeer review


Agro-ecological service crops (ASCs), also known as cover crops, green manures or catch crops, can improve organic vegetable production in terms of weed suppression, nitrogen (N) recycling, or addition of N through symbiotic N2 fixation by legumes. Traditionally, ASCs are terminated through full incorporation into the soil (FI), but alternative termination without tillage is available by roller-crimping (RC). The applicability of RC to Northern and Western European climates has only been studied to a limited extend. The objective of this study was therefore to investigate the N dynamics involved in FI and RC of legume and cereal ASCs in organic cabbage production across Northern and Western European climates. Field experiments were conducted at one location in Estonia and in Denmark, and at three locations in Belgium during two cropping cycles (2015/2016 and 2016/2017) to assess the effect of ASC termination method in spring (FI and RC) and ASC species (pea, pea/cereal mixtures and cereals), compared with a bare soil control (BS), on soil mineral N content, N accumulation, yield, and root growth of a following crop of cabbage. Agro-ecological service crops, and in particular cereals, reduced N availability for succeeding cabbage compared with BS by 37–73%. Similar marketable cabbage yield was obtained under FI and BS in two out of four cases in Belgium, due to higher availability of soil mineral N when terminated earlier (April/May) than RC (May/June). However, FI reduced marketable yields by 36–98 % in the other cases in Belgium and in two out of four cases in Estonia and Denmark, where FI was conducted in May/June. Overall, cabbage marketable yields were reduced by 68–100% under RC compared to BS and FI in seven out of nine cases mainly due to reduced soil mineral N availability. Soil mineral N availability was lower under RC likely because of a slower mineralisation of ASCs and soil organic matter. Besides, the termination of ASCs close to the time of cabbage planting under RC increased pre-emptive competition on N. Cabbage marketable yield could be maintained under RC at fertilisation by 236 kg N ha−1 following pea in Denmark. Cabbage root growth was generally increased with higher above ground plant biomass across treatments in Estonia and Denmark, while the relationship was reverse under RC in East Flanders, indicating changes in resource allocation. Soil mineral N at harvest did not differ among treatments in deeper depth, showing no higher risk of N leaching from FI or RC. In conclusion, RC showed major yield reductions in the first and second year after conversion from spring tillage. Therefore, further investigations should verify improved yields under longer-term RC practice, e.g. due to build-up of soil organic matter, before implementation can be recommended in organic vegetable production in Northern and Western Europe.
Oorspronkelijke taalOngedefinieerd/onbekend
TijdschriftEuropean Journal of Agronomy
PublicatiestatusGepubliceerd - 2020


  • Roller-crimper
  • Incorporation
  • Cover crops
  • Organic farming
  • Winter pea
  • Winter rye
  • Winter barley

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