Soil mineral nitrogen benefits derived from legumes and comparisons of the apparent recovery of legume or fertiliser nitrogen by wheat Academic Article uri icon


  • Nitrogen (N) contributed by legumes is an important component of N supply to subsequent cereal crops, yet few Australian grain-growers routinely monitor soil mineral N before applying N fertiliser. Soil and crop N data from 16 dryland experiments conducted in eastern Australia from 1989–2016 were examined to explore the possibility of developing simple predictive relationships to assist farmer decision-making. In each experiment, legume crops were harvested for grain or brown-manured (BM, terminated before maturity with herbicide), and wheat, barley or canola were grown. Soil mineral N measured immediately before sowing wheat in the following year was significantly higher (P < 0.05) after 31 of the 33 legume pre-cropping treatments than adjacent non-legume controls. The average improvements in soil mineral N were greater for legume BM (60 ± 16 kg N/ha; n = 5) than grain crops (35 ± 20 kg N/ha; n = 26), but soil N benefits were similar when expressed on the basis of summer fallow rainfall (0.15 ± 0.09 kg N/ha per mm), residual legume shoot dry matter (9 ± 5 kg N/ha per t/ha), or total legume residue N (28 ± 11%). Legume grain crops increased soil mineral N by 18 ± 9 kg N/ha per t/ha grain harvested. Apparent recovery of legume residue N by wheat averaged 30 ± 10% for 20 legume treatments in a subset of eight experiments. Apparent recovery of fertiliser N in the absence of legumes in two of these experiments was 64 ± 16% of the 51–75 kg fertiliser-N/ha supplied. The 25 year dataset provided new insights into the expected availability of soil mineral N after legumes and the relative value of legume N to a following wheat crop, which can guide farmer decisions regarding N fertiliser use.


  • Peoples, Mark B
  • Swan, Antony D
  • Goward, Laura
  • Kirkegaard, John A
  • Hunt, James R
  • Li, Guangdi D
  • Schwenke, Graeme D
  • Herridge, David F
  • Moodie, Michael
  • Wilhelm, Nigel
  • Potter, Trent
  • Denton, Matthew D
  • Browne, Claire
  • Phillips, Lori A
  • Khan, Dil Fayaz

publication date

  • 2017