Effects of improved drainage and nitrogen source on yields, nutrient uptake and utilization efficiencies by maize (Zea mays L.) on Vertisols in sub-humid environments

D.O. Sigunga, B.H. Janssen, O. Oenema

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Nitrogen is the most limiting plant nutrient in Vertisols in Kenya. Soil properties, climatic conditions and management factors as well as fertilizer characteristics can influence fertilizer nitrogen (N) use efficiency by crops. Vertisols, characterized by low-basic water infiltration rate, are prone to waterlogging under sub-humid and humid conditions. We determined effects of drainage, N source and time of application on yields, nutrient uptake and utilization efficiencies by maize grown on Vertisols in sub-humid environments. Treatments comprised two furrows (40 cm and 60 cm deep) and a check (i.e., no furrow), calcium nitrate to furnish NO3-N, ammonium sulphate to supply NH4-N at 100 kg N ha(-1), a control (i.e., no fertilizer N), and fertilizer N application at sowing, 40 days after sowing, and split (i.e., half the rate at sowing and half 40 days after sowing). A split-plot design was used in which drainage formed the main plots and N source 3 time of N application formed the sub-plots. Higher grain and total dry matter yields, harvest index, leaf N content, uptake of N, P and K, as well as N agronomic (NAE) and recovery (NRE) efficiencies were obtained from drained compared to undrained plots. The increase in grain yields as a result of drainage varied from 31 to 45% for control, 35 to 43% for NO3-N, and 16 to 21% for NH4-N treatments. Drainage resulted in total N uptake increases from 50 to 80 kg N ha(-1) in control plots, 80 to 130 kg N ha(-1) in NO3-N treated plots, and 90 to 130 kg N ha(-1) in NH4-N treated plots. Ammonium-N source was superior to NO3-N source in terms of higher yields, NAE, and NRE in undrained plots, but the two N sources behaved similarly in drained plots. Delayed or split NO3-N application gave higher yields, NAE and NRE than when all N was applied at sowing in undrained plots. There was no difference between 40 cm and 60 cm deep furrows in terms of crop yields and nutrient use efficiencies. Thus, draining excess water with furrows at least 40 cm deep is essential for successful crop production in these Vertisols under sub-humid conditions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)263-275
JournalNutrient Cycling in Agroecosystems
Publication statusPublished - 2002



  • nitrate
  • denitrification
  • ammonium
  • soil
  • phosphorus
  • recovery
  • losses
  • flow
  • crop

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