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Integrated agronomic practice increases maize grain yield and nitrogen use efficiency under various soil fertility conditions

Zhou, Baoyuan, Sun, Xuefang, Wang, Dan, Ding, Zaisong, Li, Congfeng, Ma, Wei, Zhao, Ming
The crop journal 2019 v.7 no.4 pp. 527-538
Zea mays, biomass, corn, farmers, fertilizer application, grain yield, growing season, leaf area index, nitrogen, nitrogen content, nutrient use efficiency, plant density, planting density, soil, soil fertility, soil minerals, subsoiling
Crop yield potential can be increased through the use of appropriate agronomic practices. Integrated agronomic practice (IAP) is an effective way to increase maize (Zea mays L.) grain yield and nitrogen use efficiency (NUE); however, the physiological processes associated with gains in yield potential obtained from IAP, particularly the different under various soil fertility conditions, remain poorly understood. An IAP strategy including optimal planting density, split fertilizer application, and subsoiling tillage was evaluated over two growing seasons to determine whether the effects of IAP on maize yield and NUE differ under different levels of soil fertility. Compared to farmers' practices (FP), IAP increased maize grain yield in 2013 and 2014 by 25% and 28%, respectively, in low soil fertility (LSF) fields and by 36% and 37%, respectively, in high soil fertility (HSF) fields. The large yield gap was attributed mainly to greater dry matter (DM) and N accumulation with IAP than with FP owing to increased leaf area index (LAI) and DM accumulation rate, which were promoted by greater soil mineral N content (Nmin) and root length. Post-silking DM and N accumulation were also greater with IAP than with FP under HSF conditions, accounting for 60% and 43%, respectively, of total biomass and N accumulation; however, no significant differences were found for post-silking DM and N accumulation between IAP and FP under LSF conditions. Thus, the increase in grain yield with IAP was greater under HSF than under LSF. Because of greater grain yield and N uptake, IAP significantly increased N partial factor productivity, agronomic N efficiency, N recovery efficiency, and physiological efficiency of applied N compared to FP, particularly in the HSF fields. These results indicate that considerable further increases in yield and NUE can be obtained by increasing effective soil N content and maize root length to promote post-silking N and DM accumulation in maize planted at high plant density, especially in fields with low soil fertility.