An Integrated Approach for Nitrogen Management in Upland Cotton Production

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Virginia Tech


Nitrogen (N) fertilizer application constitutes a major portion of farmers' cost of production since N is the most applied nutrient in U.S. cotton production. Despite this, N uptake and use efficiency (NUE) in cotton remains below 50%, which presents challenges of environmental quality. Studies were conducted across 4 states in the US Cotton Belt with the overall objective of evaluating strategies to reduce loss of N to the environment, increase N uptake and NUE. The first study had two objectives: 1) compare NH3 volatilization from surface versus subsurface application/placement of granular (urea) and fluid N source (urea ammonium nitrate; UAN32); and 2) compare NH3 volatilization from urea and UAN treated with enhanced-efficiency fertilizer products. For this study, four A horizon soils of different types were collected from four sites in Virginia (VA), Georgia (GA), Tennessee (TN), and Texas (TX). The EEF products were N-(n-butyl) thiophosphoric triamide (NBPT), nitrapyrin, and ESN. In the first set of experiments (N placement experiments), it was found that across soil types, subsurface placement of granular N source reduced NH3 volatilization by 58 – 81% and subsurface placement of UAN reduced NH3 volatilization by 56 – 98%. In the second set of experiments (EEF experiments), it was found that NBPT reduced NH3 volatilization by 5 – 77% across soil types, and the highest reduction in losses by NBPT was observed on sandier and low CEC soils. Treating urea with both nitrapyrin and NBPT was more effective at reducing NH3 volatilization compared to treating urea with nitrapyrin alone. Based on our findings, subsurface application of granular and fluid N sources is recommended as strategy to reduce NH3 volatilization. Where subsurface placement is not possible, EEF products should be considered. The objectives of the second study were: 1) determine the effects of small grain and legume cover crops on N cycling; 2) evaluate the effects of cover crops and N fertilization on N uptake; and 3) evaluate the effects of cover crops on lint yield. Cover crops were winter fallow (winter weeds), small grain [cereal rye (Secale cereale)], legume mix [(50% crimson clover (Trifolium incarnatum): 50% hairy vetch (Vicia villosa)], and legume mix + rye [(67% legume mix:33% hairy vetch)]. Fertilizer N application rates were 0, 45, 90, and 135 kg ha-1. Soil inorganic N in the top 30 cm depths of the legume mix and legume mix + rye plots was consistently higher than in the rye lone or fallow plots. Cotton lint yield following legume mix with 45 kg ha-1 fertilizer N application was comparable to following fallow plots with 135 kg N ha-1. Thus, fertilizer N rate could considerably be reduced when cotton follows legume cover crops. The objectives of the third study were: 1) evaluate urea and UAN placement (broadcast, dribbling, and injection) on lint yield and fiber quality of three cotton maturity groups (early-, mid-, and full-maturity); (2) assess N use and agronomic efficiencies as influenced by N source, rate, and placement; (3) evaluate the impact of N source and placement on fiber quality. A study including 9 site-years studies was conducted in VA, GA, and TX. It was found that placement had no effect on yield in VA, had effect in all 3 years in TX, and had effect in 1 year in GA. Yield responded to N application in 8 out of 9 site-years in this study. Nitrogen use efficiency was highest among the early- and mid-season varieties. Overall, N rate and variety, rather than application/placement strategy, had the most pronounced effects on lint yield.



Nitrogen, placement, cover crop, legume, enhanced efficiency fertilizer, volatilization, nitrification, nitrate