Evaluating management zone optimal nitrogen rates with a crop growth model

Yuxin Miao, David J. Mulla, William D. Batchelor, Joel O. Paz, Pierre C. Robert, Matt Wiebers

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


Determining MZ (management zone)-specific optimal N rate is a challenge in precision crop management. The objective of this study was to evaluate the potential of applying a crop growth model to simulate corn (Zea mays L.) yield at various N levels in different MZs and estimate optimal N rates based on long-term weather conditions. Three years of corn yield data were used to calibrate a modified version of the CERES-Maize (Version 3.5) model for a commercial field previously divided into four MZs in eastern Illinois. The model performance in simulating corn yield for two hybrids (33G26 and 33J24) at five N levels in two independent years was evaluated. Economically optimum N rates (EONRs) were estimated based on 15 yr of simulation (1989-2003). The model explained approximately 59 and 93% of yield variability during calibration and validation, respectively. The model performed well at non-zero N rates, with most of the simulation errors being <10%. Model-estimated EONR varied from 70 to 250 kg ha-1. Economic analyses indicated that applying N fertilizer at year-, hybrid-, and MZ-specific EONR had the potential to increase net return by an average of US$49 (33G26) or US$52 (33J24) ha-1 over a URN (uniform rate N) application at 170 kg ha -1. Applying average hybrid- and MZ-specific EONRs across years did not consistently improve economic returns over URN application; however, applying the hybrid- and MZ-specific N rates that maximized long-term net returns would improve economic return by an average of US$22 (33G26) and US$14 (33J24) ha-1.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)545-553
Number of pages9
JournalAgronomy Journal
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 2006


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