Modeling long-term corn yield response to nitrogen rate and crop rotation

Laila A. Puntel, John E. Sawyer, Daniel W. Barker, Ranae Dietzel, Hanna Poffenbarger, Michael J. Castellano, Kenneth J. Moore, Peter Thorburn, Sotirios V. Archontoulis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

103 Scopus citations


Improved prediction of optimal N fertilizer rates for corn (Zea mays L.) can reduce N losses and increase profits. We tested the ability of the Agricultural Production Systems sIMulator (APSIM) to simulate corn and soybean (Glycine max L.) yields, the economic optimum N rate (EONR) using a 16-year field-experiment dataset from central Iowa, USA that included two crop sequences (continuous corn and soybean-corn) and five N fertilizer rates (0, 67, 134, 201, and 268 kg N ha-1) applied to corn. Our objectives were to: (a) quantify model prediction accuracy before and after calibration, and report calibration steps; (b) compare crop model-based techniques in estimating optimal N rate for corn; and (c) utilize the calibrated model to explain factors causing year to year variability in yield and optimal N. Results indicated that the model simulated well long-term crop yields response to N (relative root mean square error, RRMSE of 19.6% before and 12.3% after calibration), which provided strong evidence that important soil and crop processes were accounted for in the model. The prediction of EONR was more complex and had greater uncertainty than the prediction of crop yield (RRMSE of 44.5% before and 36.6% after calibration). For long-term site mean EONR predictions, both calibrated and uncalibrated versions can be used as the 16-year mean differences in EONR’s were within the historical N rate error range (40-50 kg N ha-1). However, for accurate year-by-year simulation of EONR the calibrated version should be used. Model analysis revealed that higher EONR values in years with above normal spring precipitation were caused by an exponential increase in N loss (denitrification and leaching) with precipitation. We concluded that long-term experimental data were valuable in testing and refining APSIM predictions. The model can be used as a tool to assist N management guidelines in the US Midwest and we identified five avenues on how the model can add value toward agronomic, economic, and environmental sustainability.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number1630
JournalFrontiers in Plant Science
Issue numberNovember 2016
StatePublished - Nov 11 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Economic optimum N rate
  • Maize
  • Modeling
  • Soil organic carbon
  • Soybean

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Plant Science


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