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Thomas G. Bottoms, Richard F. Smith, Michael D. Cahn, and Timothy K. Hartz

·ha −1 ( Hoque et al., 2010 ; Welch et al., 1979 ). Much of this variability may be attributed to field-specific factors affecting crop yield potential and N fertilizer efficiency; these factors include plant population, precipitation, irrigation

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Mary Ann Rose

Timing nutrient application to periods of high nutrient demand could increase nutrient use efficiency and reduce the potential for fertilizer leaching or runoff. However, current recommendations for field nursery and landscape ornamentals (extension publications) suggest fertilizing in late fall and early spring despite research with perennial fruit crops that demonstrates low uptake potential during those times. Research is needed to resolve this apparent conflict. Application rates for woody ornamentals, established in the 1960s and 1970s, also need reexamination in the light of environmental concerns.

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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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Thomas G. Bottoms, Timothy K. Hartz, Michael D. Cahn, and Barry F. Farrara

The impact of strawberry production on nitrate contamination of groundwater is of major concern in the central coast region of California. Nitrogen (N) fertilization and irrigation management practices were monitored in a total of 26 fall-planted annual strawberry (Fragaria ×ananassa Duch.) fields in 2010 and 2011. Soil mineral N (SMN, top 30 cm depth) was determined monthly. Irrigation applied was monitored, and crop evapotranspiration (ETc) was estimated. Growers were surveyed regarding their N fertilization practices. Aboveground biomass N accumulation was estimated by monthly plant sampling in seven fields. The effect of preplant controlled-release fertilizer (CRF) rate on fruit yield was investigated in three fields. The growers’ CRF application rate (121 or 86 kg·ha−1 N as 18N–3.5P–10.8K, 7- to 9-month release rating) was compared with a half rate (all fields) and no CRF in one field. The rate of N release from this CRF product was evaluated using a buried bag technique. Median CRF N and total seasonal N application (CRF + in-season fertigation through drip irrigation) were 101 and 260 kg·ha−1, respectively, with total seasonal N application varying among fields from 141 to 485 kg·ha−1. Biomass N accumulation was slow through March (less than 25 kg·ha−1) and then increased by ≈1.1 kg·ha−1·d−1 from April through mid-September. Mean seasonal biomass N accumulation was estimated at 225 kg·ha−1 by 15 Sept. Approximately 70% of CRF N was released before 1 Apr. Biomass N accumulation between planting and April was much lower than the combined amount of CRF N release and SMN decline over that period, suggesting substantial winter N loss. Conversely, N loss during the summer harvest season (May through August) appeared limited in most fields. Median SMN was maintained below 10 mg·kg−1, and median irrigation was 113% of estimated ETc during this period. Reduction in CRF rate did not affect marketable fruit yield in two of three trials; an 8% yield reduction was observed in the remaining trial when the CRF rate was reduced, but the decline may have been affected by spring irrigation and fertigation practices.

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P.L. Minotti, D.E. Halseth, and J.B. Sieczka

We report three N rate experiments conducted on a gravelly loam soil to assess the N status of potato (Solanum tuberosum L.) using a Minolta SPAD-502 chlorophyll meter. Highly significant linear and quadratic trends were obtained for the regression of N rate on marketable tuber yields and SPAD readings. SPAD readings were taken at four times during the growing season and decreased as plants aged. Based on regression analysis, the early season SPAD readings, associated with N rates giving maximum marketable tuber yields, ranged from 49 to 56 units depending on year, variety, and location. Potato variety significantly affected SPAD values in eight of the 12 situations where readings were obtained. Precision in interpretation was improved when the highest N rates were considered “reference strips” to standardize the SPAD readings across varieties and growing seasons. Our results suggest that field SPAD readings can readily identify severe N deficiency in potatoes, have the potential to identify situations where supplementary sidedressed N would not be necessary, but would be of limited value for identifying situations of marginal N deficiency unless reference strips are used.

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Dan TerAvest, Jeffrey L. Smith, Lynne Carpenter-Boggs, Lori Hoagland, David Granatstein, and John P. Reganold

Synchronizing the supply of plant-available nitrogen (N) from organic materials with the N needs of apple trees is essential to cost-effective organic apple production. Tree growth and organic matter mineralization are affected by orchard floor management. This study examines the effects of three orchard floor management systems, cultivation, wood chip mulch, and a legume cover crop, on the accumulation and partitioning of compost-derived N in young apple (Malus domestica Borkh.) trees at different compost application dates across two growing seasons. Compost enriched with 15N was applied to apple trees in April, May, and June of 2006 and 2007, and trees were excavated in Sept. 2007 to determine the fate of labeled compost N. Trees with wood chip mulch had significantly greater dry weight and N accumulation in vegetative tree components than trees with cultivation or legume cover. Fruit yields were similar between cultivation and wood chip treatments despite less vegetative growth under cultivation, as these trees partitioned more dry weight into fruit (44%) than wood chip mulch trees (31%). Nitrogen-use efficiency by trees was lower with a living legume cover crop than in other treatments due to competition for resources. In the cover crop aboveground biomass, 20% to 100% of the N was derived from compost. In comparison, only 5% to 40% of N in the decomposing wood chip mulch originated from compost. Tree reserves were an important source of N for spring fruit and leaf growth in all treatments, but significantly more so for trees in the cultivation treatment. Fruit and leaves were strong sinks for compost N early in the season, with trees allocating 72% of spring N uptake into leaves and fruit. In the summer, N uptake increased improving compost N-use efficiency. Summer N was preferentially allocated to perennial tissues (71%), bolstering N reserves. Trees with wood chip mulch performed well and had greater capacity to build N reserves, making wood chips ideal for establishing young organic apple orchards. However, as the orchard matures, it may be beneficial to switch to a groundcover that reduces tree vegetative growth.

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Richard C. Rosecrance, Steve A. Weinbaum, and Patrick H. Brown

Contributions of nitrogen (N) fertilizer applications to nitrate pollution of groundwater is an increasing public health concern. In an effort to improve N fertilizer efficiency, a study was initiated to determine periods of tree N demand in mature, alternate bearing pistachio trees. Seasonal patterns of nitrogen accumulation in the branches (i.e. fruit, current year wood, one year old wood, and leaves) and roots were monitored monthly.

Branches from heavily fruiting trees contained almost six times more nitrogen than branches from light fruiting trees by September; a result of the large amount of N accumulated in the fruit. Nitrogen accumulated in the branches during the Spring growth flush and nut fill periods in both heavy and light fruiting trees. Root nitrate and total N concentrations, however, peaked during the Spring growth flush and subsequently decreased during nut fill. The relationship between tree N demand and the capacity for N uptake is discussed.

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G.J. Hochmuth

Fertilizer application by drip irrigation is becoming a common practice for many vegetable crops, especially in Florida. Vegetable producers view drip irrigation as a tool to reduce water use, increase fertilizer efficiency, and improve profits, while simultaneously reducing the potential risk to the environment due to nutrient enrichment of surface and groundwater. This paper presents the current Univ. of Florida recommendations for fertilizer management with drip irrigation for vegetables in Florida. These recommendations are based on more than 15 years of research on water and nutrient management with drip irrigation. Although these recommendations were developed for largely sandy soils from mostly Florida research, they should be easily adaptable for other U.S. vegetable regions on sandy soils.

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Mary Ann Rose, Mark Rose, and Hao Wang

Fertilizer recommendations for woody ornamentals suggest applying nutrients in early spring at budbreak, and in fall at the time of leaf coloration or leaf abscission. Because plants lack functional leaves at those times, there would be minimal contributions from photosynthesis to active ion absorption or from transpiration to mass flow of ions in soil towards roots. Thus, we hypothesized that fertilizer efficiency also would be low at those times. To estimate N uptake efficiency, 15N-enriched fertilizer was applied to container linden trees at one of five times during the 1998 season: at budbreak, during active growth, after terminal bud-set, before leaf abscission, and during leaf abscission. Half of the plants received 15N-nitrate-enriched ammonium nitrate on each date, and half received 15N-ammonium-enriched ammonium nitrate. Treated plants were harvested 10 days after enriched fertilizer application (29 May, 6 July, 17 Aug., 28 Sept., and 16 Nov.). Patterns of uptake were not different between plants treated with 15N-ammonium- or 15N-nitrate-enriched fertilizer. In both cases, nitrogen recovery efficiencies at budbreak and leaf abscission were much lower than at other application times. Whole-plant recovery efficiency of 15N-nitrate-enriched ammonium nitrate was 10% at budbreak, 13% at leaf abscission, and ranged from 58% to 71% for the intervening times. Recovery of 15N-ammonium-enriched ammonium nitrate was 6% at budbreak, 24% at leaf abscission, and 42% to 56% for intervening times.

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T.K. Hartz and S. Breschini

High rates of N fertilization of cool-season vegetables has contributed to NO3-N pollution of groundwater in the Salinas Valley of central California. Ten field demonstrations were conducted in 1999 to document the utility of presidedress soil NO3-N testing in maximizing N fertilizer efficiency in iceberg lettuce (Lactuca sativa L.). In each demonstration, a plot 36 beds wide × the entire field length was established in a commercial lettuce field. The cooperating growers applied 1 to 3 N sidedressings in these fields. Before each sidedressing the soil NO3-N concentration in the top 30 cm of the plot was determined by an on-farm quick test technique. If NO3-N was >20 mg·kg-1, no N was applied at that sidedressing; for NO3-N <20 mg·kg-1, ≈4 kg N/ha was applied for each milligram per kilogram below the 20 mg·kg-1 threshold. Plot yields, harvested by commercial crews, were compared to the yield of adjacent areas of the field that received the growers' full sidedress N regime. Across fields, seasonal sidedress N application in the PSNT plots averaged N only at 86 kg·ha-1, almost 60% less than the average N (212 kg·ha-1) applied by the growers. Yields in the PSNT plots averaged 1824 boxes/ha, compared with 1829 boxes/ha in the companion field plots. Whole leaf N concentration at heading was above published sufficiency standards in all PSNT plots. Evaluation of heads after 10 days of storage at 5 °C showed that sidedress N application rate did not affect visual quality, decay, or midrib discoloration. We conclude that PSNT can reliably be used to minimize wasteful sidedress N applications in lettuce.