The utility of presidedress soil nitrate testing (PSNT) in irrigated lettuce (Lactuca sativa L.) and celery (Apium graveolens L.) production was evaluated in 15 commercial fields in California from 1996 to 1997. Fields were selected in which soil NO3-N (5- to 30-cm depth) was >20 mg·kg–1 at the time the cooperating grower made the first sidedress N application. The grower's N regime was compared with reduced N treatments established by reducing or eliminating one or more sidedress applications. All fields were sprinkler and/or furrow irrigated, with minimal in-season precipitation. Reductions in seasonal N application averaging 143 and 209 kg·ha–1 N in lettuce and celery trials, respectively, had no effect on marketable yield in any field. Crop biomass N at harvest in the lowest N treatment in each field averaged 94% (lettuce) and 88% (celery) of that in plots receiving the full grower N program. Based on controlled-environment aerobic incubation of soil from 30 fields in long-term vegetable rotations, in-season N mineralization averaged 1% to 2% of soil organic N. A soil NO3-N “quick test” procedure utilizing a volumetric extraction of field-moist soil and measurement by nitrate-sensitive colorimetric test strips was evaluated and proved to be a practical on-farm method to estimate soil NO3-N concentration. Lettuce midrib NO3-N concentration at cupping stage was poorly correlated with current soil NO3-N level. We conclude that PSNT can reliably identify fields in which sidedress N application can be delayed or eliminated without affecting crop performance.
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Univ. of California Cooperative Extension, Santa Barbara County.Betteravia Farms, Santa Maria, Calif.