Potato (Solanum tuberosum) production in Washington State's Central Columbia Plateau faces nitrogen (N) management challenges due to the combination of coarse textured soils (sandy loam to loam) and hilly topography in this region as well as the high N requirement of potato. Potato growth and development can vary with the N availability across the field. In this 2-year study, two adjacent potato fields were selected each year (1999 and 2000). Each field was soil sampled on a 200 × 200 ft (61.0 m) grid to establish existing soil N content. One field was preplant fertilized with variable N rate while the other was conventionally preplant fertilized, applying a uniform rate across the field based on the field average. During the growing season, each field was monitored for nitrate leaching potential using ion exchange membrane technology. Soil and plant nutrient status were also monitored by collecting in-season petiole and soil samples at two key phenological stages, tuber initiation and tuber bulking. Overall this research showed that variable rate preplant N fertilizer management reduced N leaching potential during the early part of the growing season, but did not persist the entire season. Since preplant N accounted for only 40% of the total seasonal N applied, it is possible that further gains could be made with variable rate in-season N application or with variable rate water application.
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