In view of the low N concentration in organic fertilizers, it is necessary to use high rates of such fertilizers to attend coffee crop requirements. Hence, N is the most limiting nutrient for organic coffee production. The objective of this work was to evaluate the influence of sunn hemp (Crotalaria juncea) organic fertilization on the growth and nutritional status of coffee cultivars, as well as to quantify plant biomass and N input derived from biological nitrogen fixation, and their effect on soil chemical characteristics. The experiment consisted of six coffee (Coffea arabica) cultivars intercropped with and without sunn hemp sown in November 2001 and pruned at mid-height 76 days later. At 175 days, the standing biomass of the legume was cut, measuring dry mass, total N, P, K, Ca, Mg, and 15N natural abundance, resulting 16 t ha-1 of dry mass and the recycling of 444, 21, 241, 191, and 44 kg ha-1 of N, P, K, Ca, and Mg, respectively. Cultivars 'Obatã' and 'Catuaí Vermelho' presented the highest growth rates in terms of plant height, while cultivars 'Icatu' and 'Oeiras' presented the lowest rates. Biological nitrogen fixation associated to the legume introduced more than 200 kg ha-1 of N, which is a demonstration that N fertilization in organic cropping systems is a valuable alternative. Intercropping lead to a constant coffee leaf N content during the entire cropping cycle, contrary to what was observed in plots grown without sunn hemp.
Coffea arabica; Crotalaria juncea; biological nitrogen fixation; nutrient input; green manure