Pulse crop management to enhance biological nitrogen fixation in the northern Great Plains
Baber, Kaleb Wade
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Pulse crop production has increased dramatically in Montana and the surrounding northern Great Plains over the past few decades. Through N fixation, pulse crops, including pea and lentil, can reduce N fertilizer requirements, both by replacing non N-fixing crops and positively contributing to soil N pools for subsequent crop uptake. Three studies were conducted in Montana over three years to investigate pulse crop management practices that enhance N fixation of pea and lentil. The first study investigated lentil N fixation response to fertilizers and inoculant types. Inoculant and S fertilizer each increased N fixed by lentil in 40% of site-years, but response was not well correlated with cropping history or soil sulfate-S levels. In one site-year, N fixation appeared to continue increasing at the highest tissue S concentration while seed yield plateaued below that highest level, indicating that S fertilizer could increase the soil N benefit of lentil even if a yield response is not expected. Potassium fertilizer nor inoculant type influenced N fixed. The second study assessed differences in N fixation among lentil and pea varieties. Amounts of N fixed varied in 75% and 50% of site-years for lentil and pea, respectively. Differences among varieties were sometimes large, up to 45 kg N ha-1. Two lentil varieties, CDC Richlea and Riveland, were frequently among the top N-fixers, while no pea varieties consistently fixed more N than others. Correlations between N fixed and seed yield ranged from weak to moderate, and pea more frequently had positive relationships than lentil. The third study evaluated N fixation response of two pea varieties to inoculant formulations. Inoculant formulation did not impact N fixed by either variety, and the uninoculated treatment performed as well as the inoculated treatments. This suggests producers may not need to inoculate pulse crops to achieve sufficient N fixation when effective rhizobia populations exist in their fields. These results contribute to the researchers' understanding of N fixation by pulse crops in the region. Together, these studies can help producers in the northern Great Plains better manage pea and lentil, improving both economic and environmental sustainability of the region's cropping systems.