Evaluating management zones and crop-sensing relationships for improved irrigated maize nitrogen management

Joel Crowther, John Parrish, Joe D. Luck, Richard B. Ferguson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Active crop canopy sensors and management zones (MZ) are two methods of directing variable-rate, in-season nitrogen (N) fertilizer applications in maize (Zea mays L.). Researchers have suggested that integrating these two approaches may result in improved performance of sensor-based N application algorithms through increased N use efficiency and profitability. The objectives of this research study were to (1) identify soil and topographic variables that are related to in-season canopy reflectance and yield for soil-based MZ delineation and (2) determine if delineated MZ can identify areas with differential crop response to N fertilizer. N ramp blocks were placed end-to-end in field-length strips at eight irrigated maize fields in east central Nebraska in 2016 and 2017. Maize response to N was evaluated with in-season canopy reflectance measurements and grain yield. Relationships between maize response variables and measured soil and topographic attributes were evaluated and used to delineate MZ. Yield response to N rate was highly variable among and within fields. Soil apparent electrical conductivity had the highest overall correlations with crop response and was used as a clustering variable in five of eight fields. Economic analysis showed a potential advantage to using soil-based MZ compared to producer-chosen uniform N rates in five of eight fields. Delineated MZ were able to identify areas with differential soil properties and crop response to N fertilizer. Integrating soil-based MZ and sensor-based N management has potential to achieve further economic benefits.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere20336
JournalAgrosystems, Geosciences and Environment
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2023

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Soil Science
  • Plant Science


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