538 Understanding Why Horticultural Crops in the Desert Rarely Respond to K Fertilization

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  • 1 University of Arizona, Yuma Ag. Center, 6425 W. 8th St., Yuma, AZ 85364

Vegetable and fruit crops produced in the desert southwestern United States generally do not respond to K fertilization. Even when pre-plant soil test K levels are low and crop K accumulations are high, responses are infrequent. We have performed a number of evaluations aimed at understanding why crops produced in this region fail to respond to K fertilization. First, data show the potential for substantial K inputs through irrigation. For example, Colorado River water, which is widely used for irrigation in this region, contains ≈5 ppm K, resulting in potential K inputs of 30 to 60 kg K/ha. Second, many of the soils used for crop production have a clay content and mineralogy making a response to K unlikely. Studies evaluating the kinetics of K release from the mineral fraction of soils in the region has shown that many soils used for crop production have a high capacity to replenish K to the soil solution and exchange sites following crop uptake. Finally, the observation that Na can partially substitute for the K requirement of many fast-growing leafy vegetables may also be a contributing factor for the infrequent K fertilizer responses for these commodities.

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