In-season Soil Nitrate Testing as a Guide to Nitrogen Management for Annual Crops

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  • 1 Plant Biology and Pathology Dept., Rutgers University, 59 Dudley Road, New Brunswick, NJ 08901-8520.

In-season soil nitrate testing is most useful when there is reason to believe, based on field history, that N availability may be adequate. These reasons may include soil organic matter content, applied manure, compost, legumes in the rotation, or residual N fertilizer. Soil nitrate testing is not helpful when crops are grown on sandy, low organic matter content soils that are known from experience to be N deficient. Soil nitrate testing is useful for annual crops such as vegetables or corn for which supplemental N fertilization is a concern. Soil nitrate tests must be performed at critical crop growth stages, and the results must be obtained rapidly to make important decisions about the need for N fertilization. Soil nitrate-N (NO3-N) concentrations in the range of 25 to 30 mg·kg-1 (ppm) indicate sufficiency for most crops, but N fertilizer practice should be adjusted based on local extension recommendations.

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