Improving Nitrogen Management of Vegetable Crops Through Intensive Monitoring

in HortScience
Authors: T.K. Hartz1 and F.J. Costa1
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  • 1 Dept. of Vegetable Crops, Univ. of California, Davis, CA 95616.

The production of cool-season vegetable crops in California's coastal valleys is characterized by high N input (typically 200–300 kg·ha–1 per crop), with two crops per year the norm. N. removal in harvested biomass seldom exceeds 100 kg·ha–1, suggesting a high degree of inefficiency in N management. A project was conducted on a commercial farm in Santa Maria to document the utility of intensive monitoring of soil and plant N status on improving N management. Eight fields were monitored through successive cropping cycles. Slow-release N fertilizer was applied preplant at 110–250 kg·ha–1 in subplots in each field to provide a reference of known N sufficiency against which to compare field productivity; these reference plots also received the same in-season fertilizer N applied in the balance of the field. N monitoring techniques included: in situ and controlled-environment soil incubation to estimate net N mineralization, soil NO3-N analysis by a “quick test” technique using colormetric test strips, and petiole sap analysis by NO3-N selective electrode. It was consistently demonstrated that, for lettuce, cauliflower, and broccoli, maximum crop productivity was obtained with seasonal N applications 50–100 kg N/ha less than the industry norm and that fertilizer cost savings more than offset the cost of crop and soil monitoring.

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