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Deriving seasonally optimal nitrogen fertilization rates for a ryegrass pasture based on agricultural production systems simulator modelling with a refined AgPasture model

Vogeler, I., Cichota, R.
Grass and forage science 2016 v.71 no.3 pp. 353-365
Lolium, aboveground biomass, animal products, autumn, emissions, environmental impact, exports, fertilizer rates, irrigation, leaching, models, nitrogen, nitrogen content, pastures, plant growth, production technology, soil, spring, summer, temporal variation, tissues, winter, New Zealand
Productive pasture systems require a regular supply of mineral nitrogen (N) to replace the N removed through the export of animal products and other loss pathways such as leaching and emissions. High spatial and temporal variability of both N supply by the soil and demand by the plant means that synchronizing these is challenging, and early indicators are lacking. Optimum fertilization rates for an irrigated ryegrass pasture in Canterbury, New Zealand, were determined in a simulation study with twenty fertilization rates using the Agricultural Production Systems Simulator with a refined version of APSIM's pasture module (AgPasture). Improvements in AgPasture included ideal N concentrations for tissues of different ages (growing, mature, senescent and dead) and allowing N remobilization to occur from all tissue stages. The critical N concentration curve (the minimum N concentration required to achieve maximum aerial biomass) was tested as an early indicator for guiding N fertilization, which maximizes plant growth while avoiding unnecessary environmental impacts. Highest pasture yields were achieved with application rates of 20, 30, 140 and 160 kg N ha⁻¹ for winter, autumn, summer and spring. These rates also minimized simulated N losses. Pasture N contents corresponding to the standing dry matter of the pastures were similar to the critical N curve in summer and spring, but lower critical N concentrations were obtained for autumn and winter. Before the critical N reference curve can be used to guide fertilization for pastures, further experimental studies, model testing and parameterization are required. It is also possible that season‐specific critical N curves need to be established for pastures.