Methods: Experiments were conducted to determine the appropriate technique of corn-legume intercropping in conjunction with the supplemental use of chemical fertilizers, organic manure, and biofertilizers (BFs). Acetylene reduction assays (ARAs) were also performed on corn and soybean roots.
Results: Combining chemical fertilizers with chicken manure (CM) in a 50:50 ratio and applying 50% NPK+50% CM+BF produced fresh forage and dry matter (DM) yields that were similar to those produced in the 100% nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), potassium (K) treatment. Among the lone fertilizer treatments, the inorganic fertilizer (100% NPK) treatment produced the highest DM yield (13.86 t/ha) of forage and outyielded the 100% CM (9.74 t/ha) treatment. However, when CM was combined with NPK, the resulting DM yield of forage (13.86 t/ha) was the same as that resulting from 100% NPK (13.68 t/ha). Compared with CM applications alone, combinations of NPK and CM applications resulted in increased plant height, crop growth rates (CGRs) and leaf area index (LAI), but the values of these parameters were similar to those resulting from 100% NPK application. Fertilizers in which the ratio was 50% CM+50% NPK or 50% CM+50% NPK+BF resulted in protein yields that were similar to those resulting from conventional fertilizers. Similarly, the CP content did not significantly differ between applications of the 100% NPK and 50% CM+50% NPK fertilizers. The use of BFs had no significant impact on improving either the yield or quality of forage fertilized with inorganic or organic fertilizer. Lactic acid responded differently to different fertilizer applications and was significantly higher in the fertilized plots than in the unfertilized plots. Compared with treatments of lone chemical and lone organic manure fertilizers, treatments involving applications of BF and a combination of BF and NPK or CM resulted in higher ARA values.
Discussion: There is no simple and easy approach to increase biological nitrogen fixation (BNF) in grain legumes grown as part of a cropping system under realistic farm field conditions. Overall, evidence recorded from this study proves that, compared with corn monocrops combined with CM and chemical fertilizers, corn-soybean intercrops could increase forage yields and quality, produce higher total protein yields, and reduce the need for protein supplements and chemical fertilizers.