An active canopy sensor-based in-season nitrogen recommendation strategy for maize to balance grain yield and lodging risk

Rui Dong, Yuxin Miao, Xinbing Wang, Krzysztof Kusnierek

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Increasing planting densities and nitrogen (N) application rates are two practices commonly used in high-yield maize (Zea mays L.) production systems to increase crop yield, but have resulted in lower N use efficiency, increased lodging, and negative environmental problems. Crop sensing-based precision N management (PNM) strategies have been developed to optimize maize yield, N use efficiency, and reduce environmental footprints, however, PNM strategies to balance grain yield and lodging risks are still very limited. The objectives of this study were to: (1) propose a N nutrition index (NNI)-based algorithm for in-season estimation of maize N demand; and (2) develop a sensor-based PNM strategy to balance grain yield and lodging risk for maize. Field experiments were conducted in Northeast China from 2017 to 2019, using a split-plot design with three planting densities (5.5, 7.0 and 8.5 plants m−2) as main plots and six N rates (0–300 kg ha−1) as subplots. Based on previous studies, a leaf fluorescence sensor Dualex 4 good for estimating plant N concentration and a canopy reflectance sensor Crop Circle ACS 430 good for estimating plant aboveground biomass were used to estimate maize NNI and predict lodging risk. Total N rates to achieve low lodging risk were determined based on wind velocity causing maize stalk lodging and historical actual natural wind speed, as well as the response of a lodging risk indicator (stem failure moment, Bs) to N supply. In-season side-dress N rates were determined based on theoretical amount of preplant N fertilizer estimated using NNI and a target total N rate. The final recommended sidedress N rates were adjusted based on the sensor-predicted lodging risk. The results indicated that NNI could be used for estimating the theoretical amount of preplant N fertilizer required to reach the current N status. It's feasible to estimate maize side-dress N demand based on the difference of a target total N rate (to achieve an optimal grain yield or low lodging risk) and the current theoretical N supply. Total N rate to ensure low lodging risk was suggested to be adopted under low and medium planting densities. Medium planting density of 70,000 plants ha−1 matched with the corresponding optimal N rate would be recommended for the study area to balance economic return and lodging risk. In general, high planting density is not recommended because it has high lodging risk. More studies are needed to further improve the developed crop sensing-based PNM strategy with more site-years of data and multi-source data fusion using machine learning models for practical on-farm applications.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number127120
JournalEuropean Journal of Agronomy
StatePublished - Apr 2024

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2024 Elsevier B.V.


  • Active canopy sensing
  • Grain yield
  • Leaf fluorescence sensor
  • Lodging risk
  • Nitrogen nutrition index
  • Precision nitrogen management


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