Evaluating Critical Nitrogen Dilution Curves for Assessing Maize Nitrogen Status across the US Midwest

Hui Shao, Yuxin Miao, Fabián G. Fernández, Newell R. Kitchen, Curtis J. Ransom, James J. Camberato, Paul R. Carter, Richard B. Ferguson, David W. Franzen, Carrie A.M. Laboski, Emerson D. Nafziger, John E. Sawyer, John F. Shanahan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Plant N concentration (PNC) has been commonly used to guide farmers in assessing maize (Zea mays L.) N status and making in-season N fertilization decisions. However, PNC varies based on the development stage. Therefore, a relationship between biomass and N concentration is needed (i.e., critical N dilution curve; CNDC) to better understand when plants are N deficient. A few CNDCs have been developed and used for plant N status diagnoses but have not been tested in the US Midwest. The objective of this study was to evaluate under highly diverse soil and weather conditions in the US Midwest the performance of CNDCs developed in France and China for assessing maize N status. Maize N rate response trials were conducted across eight US Midwest states over three years. This analysis utilized plant and soil measurements at V9 and VT development stages and final grain yield. Results showed that the French CNDC (y = 34.0x−0.37, where y is critical PNC, and x is aboveground biomass) was better with a 91% N status classification accuracy compared to only 62% with the Chinese CNDC (y = 36.5x−0.48). The N nutrition index (NNI), which is the quotient of the measured PNC and the calculated critical N concentration (Nc) based on the French CNDC was significantly related to soil nitrate-N content (R2 = 0.38–0.56). Relative grain yield on average reached a plateau at NNI values of 1.36 at V9 and 1.21 at VT but for individual sites ranging from 0.80 to 1.41 at V9 and from 0.62 to 1.75 at VT. The NNI threshold values or ranges optimal for crop biomass production may not be optimal for grain yield production. It is concluded that the CNDC developed in France is suitable as a general diagnostic tool for assessing maize N status in US Midwest. However, the threshold values of NNI for diagnosing maize N status and guiding N applications vary significantly across the region, making it challenging to guide specific on-farm N management. More studies are needed to determine how to effectively use CNDC to make in-season N recommendations in the US Midwest.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number1948
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2023


  • critical nitrogen dilution curve
  • crop nitrogen status diagnosis
  • nitrogen nutrition index
  • precision nitrogen management
  • soil nitrate-N content

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agronomy and Crop Science


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