Effects of maize residue and mineral nitrogen applications on maize yield in conservation-agriculture-based cropping systems of Southern Africa
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Conservation agriculture (CA) and no-till (NT)-based cropping systems could address soil degradation and fertility decline in southern Africa. A multi-location and multi-year experiment was carried out between 2008 and 2014 to assess the effects of different levels of maize residue biomass (0, 2, 4, 6 and 8 t ha−1) and nitrogen (N) fertilizer (0, 30, 90 kg ha−1) on maize performance under no-tillage. In some sites, different (N) fertilizer levels were superimposed to test their effects on maize grain yield and leaf chlorophyll content under different maize residue biomass levels. The different residue levels had no significant effect on maize yield in most growing seasons. Maize residue cover increased grain yield in eight out of 39 site-years across the sites used. However, in some sites, maize yield decreased with increases in residue level in cropping seasons that had average to above average rainfall. At a few sites maize yield increased with increase in residue level. Seasonal rainfall pattern influenced the effect of different residue levels on grain yield at most sites. Nitrogen fertilizer increased maize yield regardless of the residue level applied. This study demonstrates that mulching with maize residues in CA/NT systems results in limited maize yield gains – at least within the first 6 years in different agro-ecological conditions of southern Africa.