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Field trials show the fertilizer value of nitrogen in irrigation water

  • Author(s): Cahn, Michael
  • Smith, Richard
  • Murphy, Laura
  • Hartz, Tim
  • et al.
Abstract

Increased regulatory activity designed to protect groundwater from degradation by nitrate-nitrogen (NO3-N) is focusing attention on the efficiency of agricultural use of nitrogen (N). One area drawing scrutiny is the way in which growers consider the NO3-N concentration of irrigation water when determining N fertilizer rates. Four drip-irrigated field studies were conducted in the Salinas Valley evaluating the impact of irrigation water NO3-N concentration and irrigation efficiency on the N uptake efficiency of lettuce and broccoli crops. Irrigation with water NO3-N concentrations from 2 to 45 milligrams per liter were compared with periodic fertigation of N fertilizer. The effect of irrigation efficiency was determined by comparing an efficient (110% to 120% of crop evapotranspiration, ETc) and an inefficient (160% to 200% of ETc) irrigation treatment. Across these trials, NO3-N from irrigation water was at least as efficiently used as fertilizer N; the uptake efficiency of irrigation water NO3-N averaged approximately 80%, and it was not affected by NO3-N concentration or irrigation efficiency.

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