1Department of Vegetable Crops, University of California, Davis, CA 95616; 2University of California Cooperative Extension, Fresno County, Fresno, CA 93702;3 U.C. Cooperative Extension, Yolo and Solano Counties, Woodland, CA 95695; 4U.C. Cooperative Extension Farm Advisor, Yuba and Sutter Counties, Yuba City, CA 95991
Overuse of chemical N fertilizers has been linked to nitrate contamination of both surface and ground water. Excessive fertilizer use is also an economic loss to the farmer. Typical N application rates for processing tomato production in California's Central Valley are 150-250 kg·ha-1, and growers generally fail to fully consider the field-specific effects of residual soil NO3-N concentration, or N mineralization potential of the soil. The purpose of this research was to determine the effects of sidedress N fertilizer application, residual soil NO3-N, and in-season N mineralization, on processing tomato yield. Research was conducted during the 1998 and 1999 growing seasons at 16 field sites. Pre-sidedress soil nitrate concentration was determined at each trial site to a depth of 1 m, and aerobic incubation tests were conducted on these soils (top 0.3 m depth) to estimate N mineralization rate. Sidedress fertilizer was applied at six incremental rates from 0 to 280 kg N/ha, with six replications of each treatment per field. Only five fields showed yield response to fertilizer application; yield response to fertilizer was associated with lower pre-sidedress soil nitrate levels. In most fields with fertilizer response, yield was not increased with sidedress N application above 56 kg·ha-1. Mineralization was estimated to contribute an average of ≈60 kg N/ha between sidedressing and harvest. These results suggest that N fertilizer inputs could be reduced substantially below current industry norms without lowering yields, especially in fields with higher residual soil nitrate levels.