Tropical Grasslands (2003) Volume 37, 119–128

Nitrogen cycling in degraded Leucaena leucocephala-Brachiaria decumbens pastures on an acid infertile soil in south-east Queensland, Australia

S.T.M. BURLE1, H.M. SHELTON2 and S.A. DALZELL2

1 Rua Major Codeceira, Boa Vista, Recif, Brazil
2 School of Land and Food Sciences, The University of Queensland, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

Abstract

A grazing trial was conducted to quantify N cycling in degraded Leucaena leucocephala (leucaena)-Brachiaria decumbens (signal grass) pastures grown on an acid, infertile, podzolic soil in south-east Queensland.
Nitrogen accumulation and cycling in leucaena-signal grass pastures were evaluated for 9 weeks until all of the leucaena on offer (mean 600 kg edible dry matter (EDM)/ha, 28% of total pasture EDM) was consumed. Nitrogen pools in the grass, leucaena, soil, cattle liveweight, faeces and urine were estimated.
The podzolic soil (pH 4.85.9) was found to be deficient in P, Ca and K. Leucaena leaf tissues contained deficient levels of N, P and Ca. Grass tissues were deficient in N and P.
Grazing was found to cycle 65% of N on offer in pasture herbage. However, due to the effect of the plant nutrient imbalances described above, biological N fixation by leucaena contributed only 15 kg/ha N to the pasture system over the 9-month regrowth period, of which 13 kg/ha N was cycled. Cattle retained 1.8 kg/ha N (8% of total N consumed) in body tissue and the remainder was excreted in dung and urine in approximately equal proportions. Mineral soil N concentrations did not change significantly (3.5 kg/ha N) over the trial period. The ramifications of grazing and fertiliser management strategies, and implications for pasture rundown and sustainability are discussed.

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