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An Investigation of Current Potato Nitrogen Fertility Programs' Contribution to Ground Water Contamination

Authors: Brian H. Marsh


Nitrogen fertility is an important component for optimum potato yield and quality. Best management practices are necessary in regards to N applications to achieve these goals without applying excess N with may contribute to ground water contamination. Eight potato fields in the Southern San Joaquin Valley were sampled for nitrogen inputs and uptake, tuber and vine dry matter and residual soil nitrate-N. The fields had substantial soil nitrate-N prior to the potato crop. Nitrogen fertilizer was applied prior to planting and in irrigation water as needed based on in-season petiole sampling in accordance with published recommendations. Average total nitrogen uptake was 237 kg ha-1 on 63.5 Mg ha-1 tuber yield and nitrogen use efficiency was very good at 81 percent. Sixty-nine percent of the plant nitrogen was removed in tubers. Soil nitrate-N increased 14 percent from pre-plant to post-harvest averaged across all fields and was generally situated in the upper soil profile. Irrigation timing and amount applied did not move water into the lower profile except for a single location where nitrate also moved into the lower soil profile. Pre-plant soil analysis is important information to be used. Rotation crops having deeper rooting growth would be able to utilize nitrogen that remained in the soil profile.

Keywords: Potato, nitrogen fertilization, leaching potential, irrigation management

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