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Indicators of Cotton Nitrogen Status

Wiedenfeld, Bob, Wallace, B. Webb, Hons, Frank
Journal of plant nutrition 2009 v.32 no.7-9 pp. 1353-1370
cotton, plant growth, crop production, flowering, nitrogen content, quantitative analysis, fertilizer requirements, nitrogen, Gossypium hirsutum, nutrient deficiencies, fertilizer rates, nutrient requirements, nitrates, petioles, chemical constituents of plants, chlorophyll, nitrogen fertilizers, Texas
Nitrogen (N) deficiency limits cotton yields, while too much N causes excessive vegetative growth hurting yields, wastes expensive inputs, and causes environmental pollution. Diagnostic indicators are needed to assess cotton N status so that yields can be optimized as efficiently as possible. This study evaluated selected tools for predicting cotton responses to N fertilizer application. Petiole nitrate (NO3)-N (PNN) concentration was found to correlate with cotton N status and a good indicator of potential for response to N application. Critical PNN concentrations for irrigated cotton in subtropical South Texas at first bloom, and 10, 20 and 30 d later were determined to be 15.0, 9.0, 4.5, and 2.0 g kg- 1, respectively. These critical PNN levels are higher than in more humid areas of the traditional southern US Cotton Belt, probably due to the effects of the subtropical climate. Cotton plants in this area tend to be less vegetative, possibly due to shorter growing season day lengths, and therefore need to be “pushed” slightly harder with greater N fertilization. Leaf total N concentrations were found to be less responsive to changes in applied N than were PNN levels. Although leaf N tended to be more stable over time, there was no consistent pattern between years. Leaf N values of 35 g kg- 1 or less appear to represent a deficiency at any time, and optimum levels may be slightly higher. Nodes above white flower showed very small responses to N fertilization and the differences occurred late in the bloom period. Chlorophyll meter readings showed a good relationship with N fertilizer application within a given sampling date, but much greater variability occurred between dates and due to other factors. The most effective indicator of cotton N status was found to be PNN, and to a lesser extent leaf N, but none of other parameters could be recommended for purposes of making inferences as to N status of cotton.