Economically optimal nitrogen rate reduces soil residual nitrate

J Environ Qual. 2007 Jan 25;36(2):354-62. doi: 10.2134/jeq2006.0173. Print 2007 Mar-Apr.


Post-harvest residual soil NO(3)-N (RSN) is susceptible to transfer to water resources. Practices that minimize RSN levels can reduce N loss to the environment. Our objectives were (i) to determine if the RSN after corn (Zea mays L.) harvest can be reduced if N fertilizer is applied at the economically optimal N rate (EONR) as compared to current producer practices in the midwestern USA and (ii) to compare RSN levels for N fertilizer rates below, at, and above the EONR. Six experiments were conducted in producer fields in three major soil areas (Mississippi Delta alluvial, deep loess, claypan) in Missouri over 2 yr. Predominant soil great groups were Albaqualfs, Argiudolls, Haplaquolls, and Fluvaquents. At four transects in each field, six treatment N rates from 0 to 280 kg N ha(-1) were applied, the EONR was determined, and the RSN was measured to a 0.9-m depth from five treatment plots. The EONR at sampling sites varied from 49 to 228 kg N ha(-1) depending on site and year. Estimated average RSN at the EONR was 33 kg N ha(-1) in the 0.9-m profile. This was at least 12 kg N ha(-1) lower than RSN at the producers' N rates. The RSN increased with increasing Delta EONR (total N applied - EONR). This relationship was best modeled by a plateau-linear function, with a low RSN plateau at N rates well below the EONR. A linear increase in RSN began anywhere from 65 kg N ha(-1) below the EONR to 20 kg N ha(-1) above the EONR at the three sites with good data resolution near the EONR. Applying N rates in excess of the EONR produced elevated RSN values in all six experiments. Our results suggest that applying the EONR will produce environmental benefits in an economically sound manner, and that continued attempts to develop methods for accurately predicting EONR are justified.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Agriculture / economics
  • Agriculture / methods*
  • Fertilizers* / economics
  • Missouri
  • Nitrates / analysis*
  • Nitrogen / administration & dosage
  • Nitrogen / economics
  • Rain
  • Soil Pollutants / analysis*
  • Zea mays


  • Fertilizers
  • Nitrates
  • Soil Pollutants
  • Nitrogen