Utility of the end-of-season nitrate test for nitrogen sufficiency of irrigated maize under Mediterranean semi-arid conditions

Ramon Isla, Montserrat Salmeron, Jose Cavero, Maria-Rosa Yagüe, Dolores Quilez


Calibration of decision tools to improve N fertilizer management is critical to increase its adoption by maize (Zea mays L.) growers. The objective of this study was to establish nitrate and total nitrogen concentrations in the basal maize stalks (BMS) at harvest to separate maize fields among three N availability categories (N-deficient, N-optimum, and N-excess) under Mediterranean irrigated semiarid conditions. We analysed data from 26 irrigated maize trials conducted between 2001 and 2012. Trials included treatments receiving different N fertilizer rates and sources (mineral and organic), irrigation systems (flood, sprinkler) and soil types. The critical nitrate concentration in BMS to identify N-deficient plots (CNCL) is affected by the irrigation system. The CNCL was lower under sprinkler irrigation (708 mg NO3-­–N/kg) than under flood irrigation (2205 mg NO3-­–N/kg), and the later presented a higher degree of uncertainty compared to sprinkler irrigated systems. The results showed the difficulty to identify the N-deficient plots with the BMS test and the higher sensibility of nitrate-N than total-N concentration in BMS to separate N-deficient from N-optimal plots. Under sprinkler irrigation, nitrate in BMS>1500 mg NO3-­–N/kg had a 85% probability of having received an excess of N. Considering economic net returns to N fertilization, the range of nitrate concentration in BMS that maximized profit under sprinkler-irrigated conditions was established between 1100 and 1700 mg NO3-–N/kg. Results suggest that BMS test can be useful in detecting plots with an excess of N but considering irrigation efficiency is crucial for stablishing successful CNC thresholds.


basal maize stalk; N-leaching; N fertilizer; sprinkler irrigation; flood irrigation

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DOI: 10.5424/sjar/2015131-6806