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S.J. Breschini and T.K. Hartz

Trials were conducted in 15 commercial fields in the central coast region of California in 1999 and 2000 to evaluate the use of presidedress soil nitrate testing (PSNT) to determine sidedress N requirements for production of iceberg and romaine lettuce (Lactuca sativa L.). In each field a large plot (0.2-1.2 ha) was established in which sidedress N application was based on presidedress soil NO3-N concentration. Prior to each sidedress N application scheduled by the cooperating growers, a composite soil sample (top 30 cm) was collected and analyzed for NO3-N. No fertilizer was applied in the PSNT plot at that sidedressing if NO3-N was >20 mg·kg-1; if NO3-N was lower than that threshold, only enough N was applied to increase soil available N to ≈20 mg·kg-1. The productivity and N status of PSNT plots were compared to adjacent plots receiving the growers' standard N fertilization. Cooperating growers applied a seasonal average of 257 kg·ha-1 N, including one to three sidedressings containing 194 kg·ha-1 N. Sidedressing based on PSNT decreased total seasonal and sidedress N application by an average of 43% and 57%, respectively. The majority of the N savings achieved with PSNT occurred at the first sidedressing. There was no significant difference between PSNT and grower N management across fields in lettuce yield or postharvest quality, and only small differences in crop N uptake. At harvest, PSNT plots had on average 8 mg·kg-1 lower residual NO3-N in the top 90 cm of soil than the grower fertilization rate plots, indicating a substantial reduction in subsequent NO3-N leaching hazard. We conclude that PSNT is a reliable management tool that can substantially reduce unnecessary N fertilization in lettuce production.

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P.R. Johnstone and T.K. Hartz*

Heavy P fertilization of vegetable crops in the Salinas Valley of California have increased soil P levels, with > 50 mg·kg-1 bicarbonate-extractable P (Pbc) now common. To evaluate the response of lettuce (Lactuca sativa L.) to P fertilization in fields with elevated soil P levels, 12 trials were conducted in commercial fields during 2002-2003. Pbc at the trial sites varied from 53-171 mg·kg-1. In each trial four replicate plots receiving the growers' P application were compared with paired plots in which no P was applied. Leaf P was monitored at cupping stage and at harvest. At harvest mean whole plant mass and % of marketable plants were recorded. The correlation of Pbc to bioavailable P (Pba) was evaluated using 30 representative Salinas Valley soils; Pbc varied among these soils from 15-177 mg·kg-1. Pba was estimated by P adsorption on an anion resin membrane during a 16 h incubation. The effect of temperature on P bioavailability in 6 of these soils was estimated by conducting the Pba incubation at 5, 15 and 25 °C. A significant increase in lettuce yield with P fertilization was achieved at only one trial site, a spring planting where Pbc was 54 mg kg-1 ; at all other sites, including 3 with Pbc < 60 mg kg-1, P application resulted in no agronomic benefit. P application resulted in only a marginal increase in plant P uptake. Pba was highly correlated with Pbc (r = 0.89). Pba increased approximately 40% across soils with each 10 °C increase in soil temperature.

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P.R. Johnstone and T.K. Hartz*

Heavy P fertilization in the Salinas Valley of California has increased soil P concentration to levels of environmental concern. To determine the correlation of various soil test procedures with P pollution potential from agricultural land in this region, soil was collected from 30 fields, most in long-term vegetable rotations. Soils were analyzed for bicarbonate-extractable P (Pbc), calcium chloride-extractable P (Pcc), bio-available P (Pba, by an anion-resin membrane technique), and %P saturation (Psat, by an enrichment technique). The soils were then exposed to a simulated irrigation event, and soluble P concentration in runoff determined. In a separate experiment the effect of cover cropping on sediment and soluble P concentration in runoff was investigated; containers of six soils were planted with oats (Horteum vulgare L.), and then compared to containers of fallow soil. Pcc, Pba and Psat were all highly correlated (r = 0.86, 0.89 and 0.90, respectively) with Pbc, which ranged from 15-177 mg·kg-1. Soluble P concentration in runoff was highly correlated with all measures of P status (r = 0.98, 0.93, 0.85 and 0.83 for Pcc, Pba, Psat and Pbc, respectively). These results suggest that while Pbc, the standard agronomic measure of soil P status, is a useful indicator of P pollution potential, Pcc (a simple laboratory procedure that could be adapted as an on-farm `quick test' technique) may be superior for that purpose. Across soils, cover cropping reduced soluble P concentration in run-off by 41%, and sediment in the runoff by 85%.

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T.K. Hartz and P.R. Johnstone

Limited soil nitrogen (N) availability is a common problem in organic vegetable production that often necessitates in-season fertilization. The rate of net nitrogen mineralization (Nmin) from four organic fertilizers (seabird guano, hydrolyzed fish powder, feather meal, and blood meal) containing between 11.7% and 15.8% N was compared in a laboratory incubation. The fertilizers were mixed with soil from a field under organic management and incubated aerobically at constant moisture at 10, 15, 20, and 25 °C. Nmin was determined on samples extracted after 1, 2, 4, and 8 weeks. Rapid Nmin was observed from all fertilizers at all temperatures; within 2 weeks between 47% and 60% of organic N had been mineralized. Temperature had only modest effects, with 8-week Nmin averaging 56% and 66% across fertilizers at 10 and 25 °C, respectively. Across temperatures, 8-week Nmin averaged 60%, 61%, 62%, and 66% for feather meal, seabird guano, fish powder, and blood meal, respectively. Cost per unit of available N (mineralized N + initial inorganic N) varied widely among fertilizers, with feather meal the least and fish powder the most expensive.

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T.K. Hartz, R. Smith, and M. Gaskell

Limited soil nitrogen (N) availability is a common problem in organic vegetable production that often necessitates additional N fertilization. The increasing use of drip irrigation has created a demand for liquid organic fertilizers that can be applied with irrigation. The N availability of three liquid organic fertilizers was evaluated in an incubation study and a greenhouse bioassay. Phytamin 801 contained fishery wastes and seabird guano, while Phytamin 421 and Biolyzer were formulated from plant materials. The fertilizers ranged from 26 to 60 g·kg−1 N, 8% to 21% of which was associated with particulate matter large enough to potentially be removed by drip irrigation system filtration. The fertilizers were incubated aerobically in two organically managed soils at constant moisture at 15 and 25 °C, and sampled for mineral N concentration after 1, 2, and 4 weeks. In the greenhouse study, these fertilizers and an inorganic fertilizer (ammonium sulfate) were applied to pots of the two organically managed soils with established fescue (Festuca arundinacea) turf; the N content of clippings was compared with that from unfertilized pots after 2 and 4 weeks of growth. Across soils and incubation temperatures, the N availability from Phytamin 801 ranged from 79% to 93% of the initial N content after 1 week, and 83% to 99% after 4 weeks. The plant-based fertilizers had significantly lower N availability, but after 4 weeks, had 48% to 92% of initial N in mineral form. Soil and incubation temperature had modest but significant effects on fertilizer N availability. Nitrification was rapid, with >90% of mineral N in nitrate form after 1 week of incubation at 25 °C, or 2 weeks at 15 °C. N recovery in fescue clippings 4 weeks after application averaged 60%, 38%, and 36% of initial N content for Phytamin 801, Phytamin 421, and Biolyzer, respectively, equivalent to or better than the N recovery from ammonium sulfate.

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T.K. Hartz and G.J. Hochmuth

Drip irrigation provides an efficient method of fertilizer delivery virtually free of cultural constraints that characterize other production systems. Achieving maximum fertigation efficiency requires knowledge of crop nutrient requirements, soil nutrient supply, fertilizer injection technology, irrigation scheduling, and crop and soil monitoring techniques. If properly managed, fertigation through drip irrigation lines can reduce overall fertilizer application rates and minimize adverse environmental impact of vegetable production.

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T.K. Hartz and R.F. Smith

Research on controlled-release fertilizers (CRF) in vegetable production has been conducted in California for several decades, and commercial CRF products have been marketed throughout most of that time. CRF remain niche products used on only a small percentage of vegetable fields. The potential advantage of CRF is maximized in production systems in which in-season nitrogen (N) leaching is significant but beyond the control of the grower, and where there are cultural constraints on in-season fertilizer application. Neither of those conditions is typical of the California industry. Annual rainfall in the major vegetable-producing regions averages less than 400 mm, with the majority of that received during winter months when vegetable production is limited; in-season leaching occurs almost exclusively from irrigation. The alluvial soils favored for vegetable production tend to be relatively fine-textured, with high water holding capacity that reduces N leaching potential. The widespread adoption of drip irrigation allows for efficient irrigation and for multiple applications of less expensive N fertilizers in synchrony with crop demand. Under representative California field conditions it has been difficult to show a horticultural benefit from the use of CRF, and the higher cost of these products has therefore limited their use. Future government regulation for water quality protection may require more efficient N fertilization practices, but significant expansion of CRF use is unlikely even under that scenario.

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K.S. Mayberry, T.K. Hartz, and M. Cantwell

Trials were conducted in California to evaluate techniques to extend post-harvest life of Western shipper-type muskmelon cultivars (Cusumis melo L.). The use of .025 mm polyethylene bags, either as individual melon wraps or as liners for 18 kg commercial cartons, minimized water loss and associated softening of the fruit. A three minute dip in 58-60°C water effectively checked surface mold and decay. The combination of hot water dip and polyethylene carton liner maintained high quality marketable fruit for at least 30 days of cold storage at 2-4°C. This technique would require only modest changes in commercial handling practices, with minimal additional per carton cost. Commercial utilization of this technique could stimulate the export of California muskmelons to Pacific Rim countries.

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T.K. Hartz, A. Baameur, and D.B. Holt

A study was conducted to determine the feasibility of fieldscale CO2 enrichment of vegetable crops grown under tunnel culture. Cucumber, squash and tomato were grown under polyethylene tunnels in a manner similar to commercial practices in southern California. The buried drip irrigation system was used to uniformly deliver an enriched CO2 air stream independent of irrigation. CO2 concentration in the tunnel atmosphere was maintained between 700-1000 ppm during daylight hours. Enrichment began two weeks after planting and continued for four weeks. At the end of the treatment phase, enrichment had significantly increased plant dry weights. This growth advantage continued through harvest, with enriched plots yielding 20%, 30% and 32% more fruit of squash, cucumber and tomato, respectively. As performed in this study, the expense of CO2 enrichment represented less than a 10% increase in total pre-harvest costs. Industrial bottled CO2 was used in this study; since bottled CO2 is captured as a byproduct of industrial processes, this usage represents a recycling of CO2 that would otherwise be vented directly to the atmosphere.

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T.K. Hartz, M. LeStrange, and D.M. May

The response of bell pepper (Capsicum annuum L.) to five rates of N fertigation between 0 and 336 kg N/ha was studied at two drip-irrigated sites [Univ. of California, Davis (UCD) and West Side Field Station, Five Points (WSFS)] in California in 1992. Nitrogen application, in the form of a urea: ammonium nitrate mixture (UN-32), was applied in eight (WSFS) or 10 (UCD) equal weekly increments, beginning after transplant establishment. At both sites, fruit yield and mean fruit size peaked at 252 kg N/ha, with additional N retarding crop productivity. Maximum fruit yield was obtained by fertility treatments that maintained petiole NO3-N concentration >5000 μg·g-1 through the early fruit bulking period. Two techniques for monitoring crop N status, designed for field use, were evaluated. There was a close relationship between the NO3-N concentration of fresh petiole extracts, as measured by a portable, battery-operated nitrate selective electrode, and dry tissue analyzed by conventional laboratory technique (r2 = 0.89). Relative chlorophyll concentration, measured nondestructively by a dual-wavelength leaf absorbance meter, was poorly correlated with whole-leaf N concentration (r2 = 0.55). However, the ratio of such chlorophyll readings for a treatment compared to an in-field reference of known N sufficiency (252 kg·ha-1 treatment) showed promise as a technique for identifying N deficiency.