Soil nitrate-N levels required for high yield maize production in the North China Plain

Zhenling Cui, Fusuo Zhang, Yuxin Miao, Qinping Sun, Fei Li, Xinping Chen, Junliang Li, Youliang Ye, Zhiping Yang, Qiang Zhang, Chunsheng Liu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

83 Scopus citations


High profile nitrate-nitrogen (N) accumulation has caused a series of problems, including low N use efficiency and environmental contamination in intensive agricultural systems. The key objective of this study was to evaluate summer maize (Zea mays L.) yield and N uptake response to soil nitrate-N accumulation, and determine soil nitrate-N levels to meet N demand of high yield maize production in the North China Plain (NCP). A total of 1,883 farmers' fields were investigated and data from 458 no-N plots were analyzed in eight key maize production regions of the NCP from 2000 to 2005. High nitrate-N accumulation (≥172 kg N ha-1) was observed in the top (0-90 cm) and deep (90-180 cm) soil layer with farmers' N practice during maize growing season. Across all 458 no-N plots, maize grain yield and N uptake response to initial soil nitrate-N content could be simulated by a linear plus plateau model, and calculated minimal pre-planting soil nitrate-N content for maximum grain yield and N uptake was 180 and 186 kg N ha-1, respectively, under no-N application conditions. Economically optimum N rate (EONR) decreased linearly with increasing pre-planting soil nitrate-N content (r 2 = 0.894), and 1 kg soil nitrate-N ha-1 was equivalent to 1.23 kg fertilizer-N ha-1 for maize production. Residual soil nitrate-N content after maize harvest increased exponentially with increasing N fertilizer rate (P < 0.001), and average residual soil nitrate-N content at the EONR was 87 kg N ha-1 with a range from 66 to 118 kg N ha-1. We conclude that soil nitrate-N content in the top 90 cm of the soil profile should be maintained within the range of 87-180 kg N ha-1 for high yield maize production. The upper limit of these levels would be reduce if N fertilizer was applied during maize growing season.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)187-196
Number of pages10
JournalNutrient Cycling in Agroecosystems
Issue number2
StatePublished - Oct 2008

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgments We thank the Key Project of Eleventh Five-year National Plan (2006BAD10B03; 2006BAD10B08), the National Natural Science Foundation of China (30700478) and the Program for Changjiang Scholars and Innovative Research Team in University (IRT0511) for their financial support.


  • Environmental contamination
  • High yield
  • Optimum N management
  • Soil nitrate-N
  • Summer maize


Dive into the research topics of 'Soil nitrate-N levels required for high yield maize production in the North China Plain'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this