Tomato nitrogen accumulation and fertilizer use efficiency on a sandy soil, as affected by nitrogen rate and irrigation scheduling

L. Zotarelli, M.D. Dukes, J.M.S. Scholberg, R. Munoz-Carpena, J. Icerman

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Tomato production systems in Florida are typically intensively managed with high inputs of fertilizer and irrigation and on sandy soils with low inherent water and nutrient retention capacities; potential nutrient leaching losses undermine the sustainability of such systems. The objectives of this 3-year field study were to evaluate the interaction between N-fertilizer rates and irrigation scheduling on crop N and P accumulation, N-fertilizer use efficiency (NUE) and NO3-N leaching of tomato cultivated in a plastic mulched/drip irrigated production system in sandy soils. Experimental treatments were a factorial combination of three irrigation scheduling regimes and three N-rates (176, 220, and 330 kg ha(-1)). Irrigation treatments included were: (1) surface drip irrigation (SUR) both the irrigation and fertigation line placed underneath the plastic mulch; (2) subsurface drip irrigation (SDI) where the irrigation drip was placed 0.15 m below the fertigation line which was located on top of the bed; and (3) TIME (conventional control) with the irrigation and fertigation lines placed as in SUR and irrigation applied once a day. Except for the TIME treatment all irrigation treatments were soil moisture sensor (SMS)based with irrigation occurring at 10% volumetric water content. Five irrigation windows were scheduled daily and events were bypassed if the soil water content exceeded the established threshold. The use of SMS-based irrigation systems significantly reduced irrigation water use, volume percolated, and nitrate leaching. Based on soil electrical conductivity (EC) readings, there was no interaction between irrigation and N-rate treatments on the movement of fertilizer solutes. Total plant N accumulation for SUR and SDI was 12-37% higher than TIME. Plant P accumulation was not affected by either irrigation or N-rate treatments. The nitrogen use efficiency for SUR and SDI was on the order of 37-45%, 56-61%, and 61-68% for 2005, 2006 and 2007, respectively and significantly higher than for the conventional control system (TIME). Moreover, at the intermediate N-rate SUR and SDI systems reduced NO3-N leaching to 5 and 35 kg ha(-1), while at the highest N-rate corresponding values were 7 and 56 kg N ha(-1). Use of N application rates above 220 kg ha(-1) did not result in fruit and/or shoot biomass nor N accumulation benefits, but substantially increased NO3-N leaching for the control treatment, as detected by EC monitoring and by the lysimeters. It is concluded that appropriate use of SDI and/or sensor-based irrigation systems can sustain high yields while reducing irrigation application as well as reducing NO3-N leaching in low water holding capacity soils.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1247-1258
JournalAgricultural Water Management
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 2009


  • water-use efficiency
  • drip irrigation
  • electrical-conductivity
  • processing tomato
  • nitrate
  • growth
  • root
  • fertigation
  • system
  • yield

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