453 N Management Strategies Affect Watermelon Yield and N Leaching

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  • 1 Horticultural Sciences Dept., Univ. of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32611-0690
  • | 2 Suwannee Valley Research and Education Center, Live Oak, FL 32060-7434
  • | 3 Dept. Agric. and Biological Engineering, Univ. of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32611-0570
  • | 4 Dept. Soil and Water Science, Univ. of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32611-0510.

Nitrate concentrations in the springs and rivers in northern Florida have been increasing, and several state agencies are interested in implementing nitrogen management programs on farms to reduce N entering the groundwater. Watermelon was grown in the first season of a six-season project under various cultural and fertilization programs to investigate the relationship of N management with N leaching. Treatments were a factorial arrangement of two cultural systems (polyethylene mulch with drip-irrigated beds and unmulched, overhead irrigated beds) and three N fertilization programs [N at the extension-recommended rate, N at the commercial-watermelon-producer rate (1.5 times recommended), or N at the recommended rate with 50% of N from poultry manure]. Nitrate in the soil beneath the watermelon crop was monitored at the 2-m depth with porous-crop suction lysimeters and soil sampling. Yields were greater with the mulch/drip irrigation system compared with the unmulched/sprinkler cultural system; however, fertilization program had no effect on yield. Nitrate-N concentrations in the soil solution at the 2-m depth with all fertilizer treatments were only slightly elevated (3 to 5 mg·L-1) above that in the unfertilized soil (< 1.0 mg·L-1) early in the season when no rain fell. Later in the season, soil solution nitrate-N concentrations at the 2-m depth increased to >50 mg·L -1 with the unmulched treatment and with the greater fertilization rate. Polyethylene mulch, drip irrigation, and recommended N rate combined to maintain groundwater nitrate-N concentration below 10 mg·L-1 for most of the production season and only slightly above 10 mg·L-1 during the summer off-season when rainfall was frequent.

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