Integrating Root Interception Capacity and Crop Nitrogen Demand into BMPs for Vegetable Crops

in HortScience

Most strategies used to determine crop N fertilizer recommendations do not address potential environmental issues associated with agricul-tural production. Thus, a more holistic approach is required to reduce N loading associated with vegetable crops production on soils that are prone to N leaching. By linking fertilizer N uptake efficiency (FUE) with irrigation management, root interception capacity, and N uptake dynamics, we aim to improve FUE. Nitrogen uptake for peppers, tomato, potato, and sweet corn followed a logistic N accumulation patterns. Up to 80-85% of N uptake occurred between 4 to 7 weeks (sweet corn) vs. 6 to 12 weeks (other crops), while N uptake during initial growth and crop maturation was relatively low. Maximum daily N accumulation rates occurred at 5 weeks (sweet corn) vs. 8-10 weeks (other crops) and maximum daily N uptake rates were 4-8 kg N/ha. Overall FUE for most vegetables may range between 23% and 71%, depending on production practices, soil type, and environmental conditions. Maximum root interception capacity was typically attained 3 to 5 weeks prior to crop maturity. It is concluded that, during initial growth, root interception may the most limiting factor for efficient N use. Although recent uptake studies have shown that FUE may be highest toward the end of the growing season, this may not coincide with the greatest crop demand for N, which occurs during the onset of the linear growth phase. As a result, yield responses to N applied later in the season may be limited. Integration of these results into best management practices and expert systems for vegetable production can minimize the externalities associated with commercial vegetable production on vulnerable soils in the southeastern United States.

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