The trend towards specialization in conventional farming led to large agricultural areas in Germany and in Europe lacking livestock. Also stockless organic farming has increased during recent years. In organic farming clover/ grass-ley (CG) provides nitrogen (N) to the whole cropping system via symbiotic N2 fixation and also controls certain weeds.
A common practice in organic farming, when ruminants are not present, is to leave the biomass from CG in the field for their residual fertility effect. CG biomass, crop residues (CR) and cover crops (CC) represent a large unexploited energy potential. It could be used by anaerobic digestion to produce biogas. In the presentation, the results of a field experiment carried out by implementing a whole cropping system with a typical crop rotation for such farming systems on the research station Gladbacherhof will be presented.
The crop rotation consisted of six crops (two legumes and four non-legume crops). The aim was to evaluate whether the use of N could be improved by processing biomass from CG, CR and CC in a biogas digester and using the effluents as a fertilizer, compared to common practice. Results indicate that digestion of CG, CR and CC can increase the crop dry matter and N yields and the N content of wheat grains in organic stockless systems.
Harvesting and digestion of residues and their reallocation after digestion resulted in a better and more even allocation of N within the whole crop rotation, in a higher N input via N2 fixation and lower N losses due to emissions and probably in a higher N availability of digested manures in comparison to the same amounts of undigested biomass. Similar results were obtained also in a similar approach carried out in Sweden. A short presentation of available data on potential effects of anaerobic digestion on soil humus budgets is included.