Fertilizer research

, Volume 37, Issue 2, pp 93–105 | Cite as

Crop nitrogen utilization and soil nitrate loss in a lettuce field

  • L. E. Jackson
  • L. J. Stivers
  • B. T. Warden
  • K. K. Tanji


Low N use efficiency and high nitrate (NO 3 - ) pollution potentials are problems in intensive vegetable production systems. The purpose of this study was to quantify N utilization by lettuce (Lactuca sativa L. cv Salinas), and identify periods of NO 3 - loss in an on-farm study in the Salinas Valley in coastal California. During autumn and winter, surface moisture remained low, and NO 3 - concentrations increased, reflecting high net mineralizable N, as determined by anaerobic incubation, and nitrification potential, as determined by the chlorate inhibition method. At the onset of a large winter storm, tracer levels of15NO 3 - were injected in the top 5 mm of soil in 30 cm-deep cylinders. After two weeks, most of the15N was present as15NO 3 - at 10–30 cm depth. By difference, losses to denitrification accounted for ~ 25% of the surface-applied15N. Leaching below 30 cm did not occur, since no15N enrichment of NO 3 - -N was measured in anion-exchange resin membranes placed at the base of each cylinder. During the crop period, NO 3 - losses were most pronounced after irrigation events. Uptake of N by two crops of lettuce (above- and belowground material) was approximately equal to fertilizer inputs, yet simulation of N fates by the Erosion/Productivity Impact Calculator (EPIC) model indicated losses of 14.6 g-N m−2 by leaching and 2.5 g-N m−2 by denitrification during the 6-month crop period. The large NO 3 - losses can be attributed to accumulation of soil NO 3 - during winter that was leached or denitrified during the irrigated crop period.

Key words

Erosion/Productivity Impact Calculator (EPIC) model leaching lettuce net N mineralization nitrate nitrogen 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1994

Authors and Affiliations

  • L. E. Jackson
    • 1
  • L. J. Stivers
    • 1
  • B. T. Warden
    • 2
  • K. K. Tanji
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Vegetable CropsUniversity of CaliforniaDavisUSA
  2. 2.Department of Land, Air and Water ResourcesUniversity of CaliforniaDavisUSA

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