Historically crop models have been used to evaluate crop yield responses to nitrogen (N) rates after harvest when it is too late for the farmers to make in-season adjustments. We hypothesize that the use of a crop model as an in-season forecast tool will improve current N decision-making. To explore this, we used the Agricultural Production Systems sIMulator (APSIM) calibrated with long-term experimental data for central Iowa, USA (16-years in continuous corn and 15-years in soybean-corn rotation) combined with actual weather data up to a specific crop stage and historical weather data thereafter. The objectives were to: (1) evaluate the accuracy and uncertainty of corn yield and economic optimum N rate (EONR) predictions at four forecast times (planting time, 6th and 12th leaf, and silking phenological stages); (2) determine whether the use of analogous historical weather years based on precipitation and temperature patterns as opposed to using a 35-year dataset could improve the accuracy of the forecast; and (3) quantify the value added by the crop model in predicting annual EONR and yields using the site-mean EONR and the yield at the EONR to benchmark predicted values. Results indicated that the mean corn yield predictions at planting time (R2 = 0.77) using 35-years of historical weather was close to the observed and predicted yield at maturity (R2 = 0.81). Across all forecasting times, the EONR predictions were more accurate in corn-corn than soybean-corn rotation (relative root mean square error, RRMSE, of 25 vs. 45%, respectively). At planting time, the APSIM model predicted the direction of optimum N rates (above, below or at average site-mean EONR) in 62% of the cases examined (n = 31) with an average error range of ±38 kg N ha−1 (22% of the average N rate). Across all forecast times, prediction error of EONR was about three times higher than yield predictions. The use of the 35-year weather record was better than using selected historical weather years to forecast (RRMSE was on average 3%lower). Overall, the proposed approach of using the crop model as a forecasting tool could improve year-to-year predictability of corn yields and optimum N rates. Further improvements in modeling and set-up protocols are needed toward more accurate forecast, especially for extreme weather years with the most significant economic and environmental cost.
- Economic optimum N rate
- In-season nitrogen management
- Nutrient recommendation
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Plant Science