COMPARISON OF IN-FIELD TECHNIQUES FOR MONITORING PLANT AND SOIL NITROGEN STATUS

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  • 1 Department of Vegetable Crops, University of California, Davis, CA 95616
  • | 2 University of California Cooperative Extension

California vegetable growers are adopting drip irrigation at an accelerating pace, which affords the opportunity for more exacting control of nitrogen nutrition. Consequently, the need for quick, accurate, grower-friendly techniques for monitoring nitrogen status in soil and plant material has increased. Three field monitoring techniques were examined in detail: the analysis of soil water samples drawn by soil solution access tubes (SSAT). leaf reflectance as measured by the Minolta SPAD 502 chlorophyll meter, and petiole sap analysis with a Horiba portable nitrate-selective electrode meter. Nitrate concentration in soil solution was highly stratified in drip-irrigated soils, both with regard to location in the field and position with respect to the drip line, making the use of SSAT technology impractical as a tool for routine N fertigation scheduling. Correlation of SSAT nitrate values to any measure of plant N status was poor. Similarly, leaf reflectance correlated poorly with any measure of tissue N in the crops examined. Nitrate content of petiole sap was highly correlated with conventional laboratory analysis of dry petiole tissue over a range of crops and nitrogen levels.

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