It was hypothesized that soil N variability, and fertilization and cropping management affect potato (Solanum tuberosum L.) growth and fertilizer N efficiency. Following a 20-year sod breakup on a loamy soil in eastern Quebec, Canada (46°37′ N, 71°47′ W), we conducted a 3-year (1993–1995) study to investigate the effects of soil pool N and fertilizer N management on non-irrigated potato (cv. Superior) tuber yield, fertilizer N recovery (NRE), and residual N distribution in soils under humid, cool and acid pedoclimatic conditions. The fertilizer N treatments consisted of a control, side-dress at rates of 70, 105 and 140 kg ha−1, and split applications (at seeding and bloom) at rates of 70+70, 105+70 and 140+70 kg ha−1, respectively. Soil acidity was corrected with limestone following the plow down of the sod. Years of cropping, main effect of N treatment, and year and fertilizer N interaction were significant on total and marketable tuber yields and N uptake, which were significantly related to soil N, and root growth. Apparent NRE ranged between 29 and 70%, depending on years and N rates. Total tuber yield, N uptake, soil N use and NRE were significantly higher in the first (sod–potato) year, but decreased by 41.8, 22.7, 21.4 and 14.7%, respectively, in the third (sod–potato–potato–potato) year. Initial soil N pool was declined by 75% following the 3-year cropping. In 2–3 years, the side-dress N (140 kg ha−1) increased significantly tuber yields (11.4–19.8%) compared to the split N (70+70 kg ha−1). Higher split N had no effect on tuber yield and N uptake but increased residual N at harvest. Unused fertilizer N was strongly linked (R2=0.98) to fertilizer N rates. Time factor and N treatment had significant effects (P<0.0001) on loss of N to below the root zone. Smaller scale rate and timing of split N need to be further determined. Increasing fertilizer N use efficiency could be expected with sod breakup and 75% of regional recommendation rate under humid, cool and acid pedoclimatic conditions.
fertilizer N recovery N uptake potato sod soil N tuber yield