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University of Manitoba Faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences Department of Plant Science

The N Benefits of
Grain Legumes in Crop Rotation

Background

Annual legumes, such as field peas, partner with soil bacteria to make their own nitrogen (N). These crops typically produce more N than they use and the residual N may be available for subsequent crops to use, thus reducing N fertilizer requirements. The amount of N available to the crop depends on many factors such as type of legume grown and soil moisture conditions. This estimate of the amount of N added to the soil by legumes is called the N-credit.

Study Objectives

To determine the N-credit contributed to wheat by these preceding legumes:

  • field pea
  • dry bean
  • chickpea
  • soybean

Experiment Description

In this experiment, wheat was grown after field pea, dry bean, chickpea, soybean or flax. Legumes were sown with the appropriate N-fixing bacteria and 55 lb/ac N was applied to the flax crop. No N fertilizer was applied to the wheat crop in year 2. All crops were harvested for grain. This experiment was conducted at Carman, MB on sandy-loam soil in 1998, 1999 and 2000; and at Brandon, MB on loam soil in 2000.

The concentration of N in the wheat kernels following legumes was determined and compared to the concentration of N in wheat after flax to determine the N-credit contributed by these grain legumes.

i.e. N credit = N yield for legume - N yield for flax

  Field Pea Dry Bean Chickpea Soybean Flax
Year 1
Legume
Year 2
Wheat

Results

Overall, field pea provided the highest and most consistent N-credit to the following wheat crop (see table below). Only in 2000 at Carman was there no benefit. This was attributed to high background levels of N this year. The experimental area had alfalfa on it two years previous, therefore, N was in abundant supply to all crops. A low N-credit for beans was not surprising as this crop is considered a poor N-fixer under Manitoba conditions. Results for chickpea were inconsistent. At Brandon, chickpea produced the highest N-credit of all legumes, while at Carman chickpea produced very little N-benefit. Chickpea also yielded much higher at Brandon than at Carman, and was probably better suited to the drier soil conditions found at Brandon. Soybean produced very little N-benefit in this experiment. Other research has shown a greater N-benefit from soybean in rotation with corn (compared with continuous corn) but this may have been for reasons other than N fixation.

N-Credit (lb/ac per 1000 lbs grain harvested) attributed to different grain legumes in crop rotation with wheat.
Site and Year Field Pea Dry Bean Chickpea Soybean
Carman - 1998 11 3 - 0
Carman - 1999 12 7 1 0.8
Carman - 2000 -0.1 -1 1.6 1.7
Brandon - 2000 14 5 16 5

To calculate your own N benefit, try the calculator below. Note that the calculation is based on the average N-benefit for each legume from the table above. Your actual N benefit will depend on local soil conditions and environmental factors.

Average N-Credit
Grain Legume Yield
lb/ac
Grain Legume Grown
 
Your N-Credit
lb/ac
 

Recommendations

  • Use this information as a general guideline for determining how much N your legume crop contributes to the following crop.
  • Amount of nitrogen produced by legumes will be affected by soil conditions.
  • Soil test and adjust N fertilizer rates in accordance with what you expect your legume contributed. Read more about Adjusting Soil Test N Recommendations for Legume N from Pulse Crops.
  • Legumes must be inoculated with the appropriate bacteria for successful nitrogen fixation.

Further Reading: D.W.A. Przednowek, M.H. Entz, B. Irvine, D.N. Flaten, and J.R. Thiessen Martens. 2004. Rotational yield and apparent N benefits of grain legumes in southern Manitoba. Canadian Journal of Plant Science 84: 1093-1096.

Copyright and Liability

This page created August 2004.
Updated May 2005.