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Spatial And Temporal Distribution Of Soil Inorganic Nitrogen Concentration In Potato Hills

B. J. Zebarth, P. H. Milburn

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The purpose of this study was to determine the spatial and temporal variation in soil inorganic N concentration in the potato hill, and to discuss the implications of this variation on soil sampling strategies. The experiment was conducted in 1999 and 2000 using four treatments: bare soil with no N fertilizer applied, and a potato crop with no fertilizer N added, with 180 kg N ha-1 applied at planting, or with 120 kg N ha-1 applied at planting plus 60 kg N ha-1 applied at hilling. Elevated (above background) soil NH4+-N concentrations were measured for 40 or more days after planting, therefore in-season sampling should be done for both soil NO3-N and NH4+-N. There was a period of up to 50 days between planting and rapid crop N uptake during which loss of NO3-N from the root zone could occur. Split fertilizer application reduced the risk of NO3-N loss during this time, but resulted in reduced tuber yield in 1999. Strong vertical variation in soil inorganic N concentration was measured in the potato hill as a result of fertilizer banding and soil N mineralization at shallow depths. Soil inorganic N concentrations were elevated in the hill, but not in the furrow, resulting in strong horizontal variation in soil inorganic N concentrations in the potato hill. Despite this variation, a systematic sampling strategy where soil was sampled in the centre of the hill, the centre of the furrow, and mid-way between the hill and furrow, done in combination with elevation control of soil sampling, resulted in an unbiased estimate of soil inorganic N concentration in the potato hill. Key words: Solanum tuberosum, nitrification, nitrate leaching, mineralization, sampling strategies