Effects of N application on agronomic and environmental parameters in silage maize production on sandy soils

J.J. Schröder, J.J. Neeteson, J.C.M. Withagen, I.G.A.M. Noy

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    The current nitrogen (N) use in silage maize production can lead to considerable N losses to the environment. Maize growers fear that a reduction of N inputs needed to minimize N losses might depress yields. The objective of this study was therefore to quantify: (1) the response of silage maize dry matter (DM) yields to N, (2) the economically optimal N reserve, and (3) the trade-off between silage maize DM yield and N losses. The indicators of N losses used in this study were the difference between N input and N uptake and the post-harvest residual soil mineral N. Regression models were used to fit DM yields and N uptakes of silage maize measured in 25 experiments on sandy soils in the Netherlands to the sum (SUMN) of the soil mineral N reserve (SMNearly) in March–April, plus mineral N in fertilizer, plus ammonium N in spring-applied slurry. The values obtained for the economically optimal SUMN in the upper 30 and 60 cm of soil were, respectively, 173 and 195 kg N ha−1, when we assumed that the value of 1 kg fertilizer N equals the value of 5 kg silage DM. The economically optimal SUMN was not significantly related to the attainable DM yield. The apparent N recovery (ANR) of maize averaged 53% at the economically optimal SUMN. The ANR rose considerably, however, when N was applied at lower rates, indicating that N losses may be considerably smaller in less intensive maize cropping. When maize was fertilized at 100 kg N ha−1 below the economic optimum, the ANR was 73%, the difference between the mineral N input and the N crop uptake decreased by 57 kg N ha−1 and the soil mineral N residue at the end of the growing season (0–60 cm) decreased by 24 kg N ha−1. The associated reduction in DM yield averaged 16%. Fertilizer prices would have to be as much as four times higher to make maize growers spontaneously reduce the application rates by a 100 kg N ha−1, however. It is concluded that adjusting the N input to a level below the economically optimal rate can reduce the risks for N losses to the environment associated with conventional maize production, with a limited effect on silage yields.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)55-67
    JournalField Crops Research
    Publication statusPublished - 1998

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