Impact of nitrogen fertilizer timing on nitrate loss and crop production in northwest Iowa

Waring, Emily Rose
Sawyer, John
Pederson, Carl
Helmers, Matthew
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AgronomyAgricultural and Biosystems Engineering
Nitrate in subsurface tile drainage from Midwestern USA corn (Zea mays L.)-soybean [Glycine max (L.) Merr] systems is detrimental to water quality at local and national scales. The objective of this replicated plot study in Northwest Iowa, 2015–2020, was to investigate the influence of nitrogen (N) fertilizer timing on crop production and NO3 load in subsurface (tile) drainage discharge. Four treatments applied to corn included fall anhydrous ammonia with a nitrification inhibitor (F), spring anhydrous ammonia (S), split-banded urea at planting and mid-vegetative growth (SS), and no N fertilizer (0N). Across crops and years, NO3-N concentration in subsurface drainage discharge was the same 11.7 mg L–1 for F and S applied anhydrous ammonia (AA). Concentration was statistically lower with SS urea (10 mg L–1) than F and S, and 0N was lower than SS at 8.3 mg L–1. Average annual NO3-N loads were not different between any treatments due to plot variability in drainage discharge. Corn responded to N application, with overall mean yield the same for F, S, and SS. There were no agronomic or water quality benefits for applying AA in the spring compared to fall, where the F included a nitrification inhibitor and was applied to cold soils. Split-applied urea had a small positive water quality impact but no crop yield enhancement. This study shows that there were improvements to NO3-N concentration in subsurface drainage discharge, but more nutrient reduction practices are needed than fertilizer N management alone to reduce nitrate load to surface water systems.
This is the peer-reviewed version of the following article: Waring, Emily Rose, John Sawyer, Carl Pederson, and Matt Helmers. Impact of nitrogen fertilizer timing on nitrate loss and crop production in northwest Iowa (2022), which has been published in final form at DOI: 10.1002/jeq2.20366. Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0). Copyright 2022 American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America, and Soil Science Society of America. Posted with permission.