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.
Bibliographical noteFunding 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