349 Determining Nitrogen Requirements of Lettuce through Presidedress Soil Nitrate Testing (PSNT)

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

High rates of N fertilization of cool-season vegetables has contributed to NO3-N pollution of groundwater in the Salinas Valley of central California. Ten field demonstrations were conducted in 1999 to document the utility of presidedress soil NO3-N testing in maximizing N fertilizer efficiency in iceberg lettuce (Lactuca sativa L.). In each demonstration, a plot 36 beds wide × the entire field length was established in a commercial lettuce field. The cooperating growers applied 1 to 3 N sidedressings in these fields. Before each sidedressing the soil NO3-N concentration in the top 30 cm of the plot was determined by an on-farm quick test technique. If NO3-N was >20 mg·kg-1, no N was applied at that sidedressing; for NO3-N <20 mg·kg-1, ≈4 kg N/ha was applied for each milligram per kilogram below the 20 mg·kg-1 threshold. Plot yields, harvested by commercial crews, were compared to the yield of adjacent areas of the field that received the growers' full sidedress N regime. Across fields, seasonal sidedress N application in the PSNT plots averaged N only at 86 kg·ha-1, almost 60% less than the average N (212 kg·ha-1) applied by the growers. Yields in the PSNT plots averaged 1824 boxes/ha, compared with 1829 boxes/ha in the companion field plots. Whole leaf N concentration at heading was above published sufficiency standards in all PSNT plots. Evaluation of heads after 10 days of storage at 5 °C showed that sidedress N application rate did not affect visual quality, decay, or midrib discoloration. We conclude that PSNT can reliably be used to minimize wasteful sidedress N applications in lettuce.

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