Maximizing nitrogen (N) use efficiency [NUE] is commonly identified as a key strategy to improve both agronomic and environmental outcomes; however, interpretation of NUE requires explicit consideration of crop N status. In this study, we derived a set of novel theoretical relationships between the nitrogen nutrition index [NNI] and NUE used to better interpret values for nitrogen uptake efficiency [NUpE] and nitrogen utilization efficiency [NUtE]. A small-plot trial for potato [Solanum tuberosum (L.) ‘Russet Burbank'] was conducted in 2016 and 2017 in Central Minnesota, USA, on a Hubbard loamy sand with six N rate, source, and timing treatments and two irrigation rate treatments. Impacts of treatments on NNI, NUpE, NUtE, NUE, biomass, harvest index, and potential N losses were interpreted within the context of a theoretical quantitative relationship between NUE and NNI. We found that for a constant NNI value, NUtE values increased non-linearly as biomass increased; at an NNI value of 1.0, this relationship defines the critical N utilization efficiency curve. As N rate increased from 40 to 270 kg N ha−1, NUtE significantly decreased from 109.8–69.7 g g−1 N, corresponding with a significant increase in both biomass (from 12.0–17.8 Mg ha−1) and in NNI (from 0.520 to 0.973), respectively. Additionally, we found that potential N losses (e.g., leaching) decreased as NUpE increased, or as total N inputs decreased. Potential N loss was lower in 2016 than 2017 (135 and 187 kg N ha−1, respectively) due to both greater NUpE and lower total N input from all sources in 2016 (0.602 g N g-1 N and 339 kg N ha-1, respectively) than in 2017 (0.526 g N g-1 N and 395 kg N ha-1, respectively). Interpreting NUE to evaluate agronomic and environmental outcomes requires separate consideration of its constituent factors (e.g., NUpE, NUtE, and HI) and explicit consideration of both NNI and biomass.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
Funding for the project was provided by the Minnesota Area II Potato Growers Research and Promotion Council and Clean Water Land and Legacy Amendment Funding administered through the Minnesota Department of Agriculture .
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- Nitrogen nutrition index
- Nitrogen use efficiency