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Yield can explain interannual variation in optimum nitrogen rates in continuous corn

Abstract

Nitrogen (N) fertilizer decision support systems that rely primarily on corn grain yield often perform poorly because year-to-year variations in net soil N supply are not considered. However, there are environments where N mineralization and N losses are stable from year-to-year while variations in economically optimum N rates (EONR) are large. In such environments, interannual variations in EONR would be explained mainly by variation in yield, and weather effects on yield formation would be more important for EONR determination than weather effects on N cycling processes that govern N mineralization and loss. Data from a 10-year continuous corn N fertilization study (2009–2018) in Elora, Ontario, Canada were used to investigate the determinants of EONR in an environment with low and interannually stable N supply. EONR varied significantly over the study period, ranging between 157 and 273 kg N ha−1. Corn N uptake at maturity in check plots did not vary significantly over time, indicating stable soil N supply. Overwinter N losses effectively reset soil N supply to a baseline each season. Maximum economic yield was strongly correlated to EONR (R2 = 0.65). Most of the variability in the EONR could be explained by rainfall during V5-V12 (R2 = 0.84) and solar radiation during VT-R1 (R2 = 0.64), suggesting weather influenced EONR primarily by influencing crop N demand. Since grain yield can explain a large proportion of interannual variation in EONR, N rate recommendation systems should not ignore yield predictions, and greater efforts should be made to increase yield prediction accuracy.

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Data availability

The datasets generated during and/or analysed during the current study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.

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Acknowledgements

Thank you to research technicians Henk Wichers and Ramesh Eerpina for managing the long-term N rate trial, as well as countless summer student assistants over the decade. We also thank the two anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments which improved the manuscript. This research was undertaken thanks in part to funding from the International Plant Nutrition Institute—Grant IPNI-2008-CAN-ON29, the Ontario Agribusiness Association, the Canada First Research Excellence Fund—Grant #499005, and Grain Farmers of Ontario—Grant #53198.

Funding

This research was supported by funding from the Canada First Research Excellence Fund—Grant #499005, Grain Farmers of Ontario—Grant #53198 and the International Plant Nutrition Institute (IPNI)—Grant IPNI-2008-CAN-ON29. All grants awarded to B. Deen.

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Niemeyer, C., Nasielski, J., Janovicek, K. et al. Yield can explain interannual variation in optimum nitrogen rates in continuous corn. Nutr Cycl Agroecosyst 121, 115–128 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10705-021-10168-z

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Keywords

  • Maize
  • Grain
  • Fertilizer
  • Economic optimum nitrogen rates
  • Economics
  • Production agriculture