Feed the crop or feed the soil? A case study in leek (Allium porrum L.)

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The purpose of our study was to assess the role of soil quality parameters in leek production and to assess their importance relative to nitrogen (N) applied as fertilizer. We selected seven (2004) and seven (2005) fields on leek farms in the southern sand district of the Netherlands and measured physical and chemical soil properties. Three N rates (0, 90 and 360 kg N ha-1 as calcium ammonium nitrate; denoted as N0, N90, N360) were given at each site. Leek (Allium porrum L. ‘Kenton’) was planted in June-July and harvested next spring. Measured response variables were shoot biomass yield (gross and net, fresh and dry) and shoot N-yield (gross, net) at harvest. Pooled data from both years were analyzed by linear regression. N uptake from unfertilized soil (U0), and topsoil properties soluble organic N (Nso), soil organic matter content (SOM), total nitrogen (Ntot) and water content at field capacity (Wfc) all had large and significant impacts on biomass yield and N yield. These five properties (Xi) were correlated and were therefore used alternately in regression models. Effects of soil properties found by regression refer to a shift in the regressor from its 25% to its 75% percentile value, and are expressed here relative to mean yields (both years, all treatments). This normalization facilitates direct comparison with fertilizer effects. Normalized effects of Xi variables on biomass yield and N yield were between +0.10 and +0.20. Effects of fertilizer application at N90 were about +0.10 (biomass yield) and +0.20 (N yield). At N360 effects were +0.10 to +0.20 (biomass yield) and +0.30 to +0.40 (N-yield). So while N fertilizer strongly promoted N-uptake relative to growth, soil properties Xi affected growth and N yield more evenly. With shifts in Xi variables, dry matter produced per kg additional N uptake was 1.49 to 1.77 times larger than with extra N uptake resulting from fertilizer application at N90. This indicates that soil properties Xi promoted yield not only via enhanced N supply. Besides effects of Xi properties and N fertilizer, we found significant effects of year, soil texture, pH and inorganic soil N at planting, on biomass yield. Texture parameters Fsfine (50-210 µm) and M50 (median of particle size in 50-2000 µm fraction) had large and additive positive effects on net fresh yield. Apparent recovery of fertilizer N (ANR) averaged 0.35 at N90, and 0.17 at N360. ANR decreased with higher Nso and increased with higher Wfc.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)85-95
JournalActa Horticulturae
Publication statusPublished - 2010

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