Special Issue "Towards a Better Understanding of Agronomic Efficiency of Nitrogen in Different Agro-Ecosystems"

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A special issue of Agronomy (ISSN 2073-4395).

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (31 January 2016)

Special Issue Editors

Guest Editor
Dr. Francesco Montemurro (Website)

Agricultural Research Council (CRA), Research Unit for Cropping Systems in Dry Environments (SCA), (Experimental Farm Metaponto), S.S. 106 Jonica km 448.2, 75010 Metaponto MT, Italy
Fax: +39 0835 258349
Interests: Agronomy; nutrient management; nitrogen dynamics, efficiency and balance; organic farming; composting process and compost application; organic fertilization; sustainable development; crop rotations and management; cropping system
Guest Editor
Dr. Mariangela Diacono

Consiglio per la Ricerca e la Sperimentazione in Agricoltura—Agricultural Research Council, Research Unit for Cropping Systems in Dry Environments (CRA-SCA) (Experimental Farm Metaponto), Metaponto MT, Italy

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

The low agronomic efficiency of N for several agricultural systems is a crucial point for sustainable agriculture.

Agronomic N-use efficiency is also the basis for economic and environmental efficiency. A high N input combined with a low efficiency results in environmental problems, such as pollution of groundwater due to nitrate leaching, and emission of ammonia and greenhouse gases from the plant-available N-pool.

Therefore, there is a need for agro-ecosystems that are profitable, but at the same time ecologically and socially sustainable.

To achieve a higher agronomic N-use efficiency, N supply should match N demand both in time and space, not for single crops but for a complex crop rotation, including cover crops, as an integrated system. To this end, diagnostic tools are available assessing N-status of growing crops, and N stabilizers and controlled release fertilizers can be used to synchronize release of N from fertilizer with crop needs.

This special issue brings together the current research findings dealing with all aspects of the understanding of agronomic efficiency of N in different agro-ecosystems, and the economic returns from adoption of best management practices such as those of conservative agriculture and organic farming.

Improving N efficiency is a fundamental challenge for sustainable agricultural production of horticultural, industrial and cereal crops.

Dr. Francesco Montemurro
Dr. Mariangela Diacono
Guest Editor

Submission

Manuscripts should be submitted online at www.mdpi.com by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. Papers will be published continuously (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as communications are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are refereed through a peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Agronomy is an international peer-reviewed Open Access quarterly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 300 CHF (Swiss Francs). English correction and/or formatting fees of 250 CHF (Swiss Francs) will be charged in certain cases for those articles accepted for publication that require extensive additional formatting and/or English corrections.

Keywords

  • nitrogen sources and management strategies in low-input and organic farming systems
  • the role of cropping systems and tillage methods on N use efficiency in horticultural, industrial and cereal crops
  • decreasing environmental N losses and increasing the productivity in soil-plant systems, by tailoring applications of fertilizer N to site-specific conditions
  • rotations and cover crops as an integrated system to improve N management in sustainable agriculture

Published Papers (8 papers)

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Editorial

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Open AccessEditorial Towards a Better Understanding of Agronomic Efficiency of Nitrogen: Assessment and Improvement Strategies
Agronomy 2016, 6(2), 31; doi:10.3390/agronomy6020031
Received: 25 April 2016 / Accepted: 26 April 2016 / Published: 10 May 2016
PDF Full-text (168 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
Agronomic N-use efficiency is the basis for economic and environmental efficiency, and an effective agro-ecosystem management practice, improving nutrient use efficiency, is a crucial challenge for a more sustainable production of horticultural, industrial and cereal crops. However, discrepancy between theory and practice [...] Read more.
Agronomic N-use efficiency is the basis for economic and environmental efficiency, and an effective agro-ecosystem management practice, improving nutrient use efficiency, is a crucial challenge for a more sustainable production of horticultural, industrial and cereal crops. However, discrepancy between theory and practice still exists, coming from large gaps in knowledge on net-N immobilization/mineralization rates in agro-ecosystems, as well as on the effects of indigenous and applied N to crop response. A more thorough understanding of these topics is essential to improve N management in agricultural systems. To this end, the present Special Issue collects research findings dealing with different aspects of agronomic efficiency of N in different agro-ecosystems, and environmental impact derived from fertilization management practices. In particular, the Special Issue contains selected papers, which concern a wide range of topics, including analyzing tools, options of management, calculation equation and modeling approaches. Full article

Research

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Open AccessArticle Little Potential of Spring Wheat Genotypes as a Strategy to Reduce Nitrogen Leaching in Central Europe
Agronomy 2016, 6(2), 29; doi:10.3390/agronomy6020029
Received: 25 January 2016 / Revised: 15 April 2016 / Accepted: 25 April 2016 / Published: 9 May 2016
Cited by 1 | PDF Full-text (1574 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
Nitrogen (N) losses negatively impact groundwater quality. Spring wheat genotypes varying in N-fertilizer recovery were studied (by using lysimeters) for their potential to minimize NO3-N leaching during spring and summer, over a three-year period. Additionally, we examined to what extent [...] Read more.
Nitrogen (N) losses negatively impact groundwater quality. Spring wheat genotypes varying in N-fertilizer recovery were studied (by using lysimeters) for their potential to minimize NO3-N leaching during spring and summer, over a three-year period. Additionally, we examined to what extent root growth and NO3-N leaching explain the well-known difference found between apparent and isotopic N recovery. The genotypes were grown under low (2 g m−2) and high (27 g m−2) N fertilizer supply. On average, the apparent and isotopic recoveries of N fertilizer by wheat were 43% and 51%, respectively. The three genotypes varied in fertilizer N recovery but not in NO3-N leaching, which only accounted for 15% of the applied N fertilizer. The differences in N uptake, fertilizer N recovery and root growth among the genotypes were not associated with the leached NO3-N because root growth and N uptake were not well synchronized with NO3-N leaching. Already at stem elongation 70% to 98% of the season-long NO3-N leaching had already taken place. Thus, the ability to minimize in-season NO3-N leaching by using spring wheat genotypes with higher fertilizer N recovery was limited because maximum N leaching occurred in the early crop season. Full article
Open AccessFeature PaperArticle Assessing Nitrogen Use Efficiency and Nitrogen Loss in a Forage-Based System Using a Modeling Approach
Agronomy 2016, 6(2), 23; doi:10.3390/agronomy6020023
Received: 29 January 2016 / Revised: 1 April 2016 / Accepted: 8 April 2016 / Published: 12 April 2016
Cited by 1 | PDF Full-text (1031 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
In intensive agriculture, N supply often exceeds crop requirements, even in nitrate vulnerable zones (NVZ). In farmland, the N surplus gives rise to NO3 leaching and consequent groundwater pollution. The present study aimed at proposing measures to reduce N leaching [...] Read more.
In intensive agriculture, N supply often exceeds crop requirements, even in nitrate vulnerable zones (NVZ). In farmland, the N surplus gives rise to NO3 leaching and consequent groundwater pollution. The present study aimed at proposing measures to reduce N leaching and hence improve N efficiency in a buffalo livestock farm located in the NVZ of Latina plain (Central Italy). The farm was cultivated with forage crops in a double annual crop rotation: Italian ryegrass (Lolium multiflorum Lam.) in winter and silage corn (Zea mays L.) in summer. Mineral and organic fertilizers were supplied to both crops. The annual N budget and soil solution NO3-N concentrations were evaluated using a modeling approach. The performance of the WinEPIC model in simulating the response of the NO3-N concentration in percolation to the N application rate was assessed and validated by field measurements of the NO3-N concentration in the soil solution. Three scenarios were proposed to identify the best practice to minimize the environmental impact of N application without significant yield loss. Also, recommendations of best practices in N fertilization and animal manure spreading were given. This study thus provides useful preliminary information for decision-making in agriculture/environmental policies. Full article
Open AccessArticle A Simple and Reasonable Calculation Equation of Balanced Fertilization
Agronomy 2015, 5(2), 180-187; doi:10.3390/agronomy5020180
Received: 17 March 2015 / Accepted: 20 May 2015 / Published: 25 May 2015
Cited by 2 | PDF Full-text (213 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
Reasonable fertilization is a primary concern for agronomy scientists and farmers. However, there is still no satisfying calculation formula to guide farmer’s fertilizing. Five kinds of indices were tested in more than 500 field plots successively, and more than 50 pieces of [...] Read more.
Reasonable fertilization is a primary concern for agronomy scientists and farmers. However, there is still no satisfying calculation formula to guide farmer’s fertilizing. Five kinds of indices were tested in more than 500 field plots successively, and more than 50 pieces of long-term and short-term fertilizer field test data acquired by others were analyzed. Quick-acting fertilizers should be applied for balanced fertilization if the soil-available nutrient content is within the normal range. Through rigorous derivation and validation by a multi-year continuous 15N tracer field test, it is obtained that, total soil exogenous N = total output N − total recovery N + soil profit or lost N; utilization efficiency of fertilizer N = (output N − exogenous N) ÷ balanced application amount of N fertilizer. Optimal balanced utilization efficiency of fertilizer N, P, K = total recovery efficiency, and soil nutrient net amount = total amount after test − total amount before test. Equation application parameters were collected from more than 50 tests, which is more applicable than collecting from a single test. When soil-available nutrient content is excessively low or excessively high, adjusting this should be based on balanced fertilization to properly increase or reduce the fertilization rate. Full article
Open AccessArticle Nitrogen Fertilizer Sources and Application Timing Affects Wheat and Inter-Seeded Red Clover Yields on Claypan Soils
Agronomy 2014, 4(4), 497-513; doi:10.3390/agronomy4040497
Received: 7 October 2014 / Revised: 21 October 2014 / Accepted: 31 October 2014 / Published: 11 November 2014
Cited by 2 | PDF Full-text (376 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
Controlled-release N fertilizer, such as polymer-coated urea (PCU), may be a fall N management option for wheat (Triticum aestivum L.) grown in poorly-drained claypan soils. Field research evaluated (1) urea release from fall-applied PCU in 2006 and 2007; (2) broadcast fall-spring [...] Read more.
Controlled-release N fertilizer, such as polymer-coated urea (PCU), may be a fall N management option for wheat (Triticum aestivum L.) grown in poorly-drained claypan soils. Field research evaluated (1) urea release from fall-applied PCU in 2006 and 2007; (2) broadcast fall-spring split (25%:75%) of N sources; and (3) a single fall (100%) application of PCU, urea, urea plus NBPT (N-(n-butyl) thiophosphoric triamide] (U + NBPT), ammonium nitrate (AN), or urea ammonium nitrate (UAN) at 0, 56, 84, and 112 kg·N·ha−1 on wheat yield, wheat biomass, N uptake by wheat, and frost-seeded red clover (FSC) (Trifolium pratense L.) forage yield (2004–2007). PCU applied in fall released less than 30% urea by February. Urea released from PCU by harvest was 60% and 85% in 2006 and 2007, respectively. In poorly-drained soils, wheat yields ranked PCU > AN > U + NBPT > urea ≥ UAN over the rates evaluated for fall-only application. PCU was a viable fall-applied N source, with yields similar to or greater than urea or U + NBPT split-applied. Split-N applications of AN, urea, UAN, and U + NBPT generally resulted in greater wheat yields than a fall application. Enhanced efficiency fertilizers provide farmers with flexible options for maintaining high yielding production systems. Full article

Review

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Open AccessReview Emerging and Established Technologies to Increase Nitrogen Use Efficiency of Cereals
Agronomy 2016, 6(2), 25; doi:10.3390/agronomy6020025
Received: 31 January 2016 / Revised: 12 April 2016 / Accepted: 13 April 2016 / Published: 19 April 2016
Cited by 1 | PDF Full-text (537 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
Nitrogen (N) fertilizers are one of the most expensive inputs in agricultural settings. Additionally, the loss of N increases costs, contributes to soil acidification, and causes off-site pollution of the air, groundwater and waterways. This study reviews current knowledge about technologies for [...] Read more.
Nitrogen (N) fertilizers are one of the most expensive inputs in agricultural settings. Additionally, the loss of N increases costs, contributes to soil acidification, and causes off-site pollution of the air, groundwater and waterways. This study reviews current knowledge about technologies for N fertilization with potential to increase N use efficiency and reduce its negative effects on the environment. Classic inorganic sources such as urea and ammonium sulfate are the major sources utilized, while controlled N release fertilizers have not been significantly adopted for cereals and oil crops. Microorganisms, with the exception of Rhizobium sp. in soybeans, are also not widely used nowadays (e.g., plant growth-promoting bacteria and cynobacteria). The interest in implementing new N fertilization knowledge is stimulating the development of sensors to diagnose the N status and decision support systems for integrating several variables to optimize sources, rates and methods of application. Among potential new technologies we identified the incipient development of nanofertilizers, nutrient formulations to coat seeds, and recycled nutrients. Furthermore, increasing concern about the environmental consequences of N may facilitate the implementation of innovations outside the farm such as more effective regulations to guide N fertilization and methods to manufacture N fertilizers that are more energy-efficient and less CO2 equivalent emitting. Full article
Open AccessReview Review of Alternative Management Options of Vegetable Crop Residues to Reduce Nitrate Leaching in Intensive Vegetable Rotations
Agronomy 2014, 4(4), 529-555; doi:10.3390/agronomy4040529
Received: 29 September 2014 / Revised: 17 November 2014 / Accepted: 17 November 2014 / Published: 2 December 2014
Cited by 5 | PDF Full-text (504 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
Vegetable crop residues take a particular position relative to arable crops due to often large amounts of biomass with a N content up to 200 kg N ha−1 left behind on the field. An important amount of vegetable crops are harvested [...] Read more.
Vegetable crop residues take a particular position relative to arable crops due to often large amounts of biomass with a N content up to 200 kg N ha−1 left behind on the field. An important amount of vegetable crops are harvested during late autumn and despite decreasing soil temperatures during autumn, high rates of N mineralization and nitrification still occur. Vegetable crop residues may lead to considerable N losses through leaching during winter and pose a threat to meeting water quality objectives. However, at the same time vegetable crop residues are a vital link in closing the nutrient and organic matter cycle of soils. Appropriate and sustainable management is needed to harness the full potential of vegetable crop residues. Two fundamentally different crop residue management strategies to reduce N losses during winter in intensive vegetable rotations are reviewed, namely (i) on-field management options and modifications to crop rotations and (ii) removal of crop residues, followed by a useful and profitable application. Full article

Other

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Open AccessTechnical Note A Calculation Tool for Analyzing Nitrogen Use Efficiency in Annual and Perennial Crops
Agronomy 2014, 4(4), 470-477; doi:10.3390/agronomy4040470
Received: 10 September 2014 / Revised: 18 October 2014 / Accepted: 31 October 2014 / Published: 5 November 2014
Cited by 3 | PDF Full-text (284 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text | Supplementary Files
Abstract
Assessment of crop nitrogen use efficiency (NUE) is important in agricultural research. Various approaches exist to analyze NUE. A recently proposed NUE concept is further developed and a calculation tool for practical use presented. A critical component in the NUE concept is [...] Read more.
Assessment of crop nitrogen use efficiency (NUE) is important in agricultural research. Various approaches exist to analyze NUE. A recently proposed NUE concept is further developed and a calculation tool for practical use presented. A critical component in the NUE concept is the plants’ mean nitrogen (N) content during the main growth period (N’). The N’ is delimited by the critical crop phenology stages initiating and terminating accelerated crop N uptake. Especially when experimental treatments and/or crop cultivars cause great variation in phenology, it is often not feasible to perform destructive plant harvests at the critical phenology stages for all treatments and cultivars, which may result in inaccurate estimates of N’ and, ultimately, the NUE components N uptake efficiency and yield-specific N efficiency. A method is proposed to accurately calculate the crop N contents at the relevant critical phenology stages even when sampling is made at other time points. The only requirements are two separate destructive plant harvests performed within the main growth period, together with the time points for the critical phenology events. The method was exemplified using data from wheat and the perennial energy crop Salix, and an electronic calculation tool for the various NUE components is provided. Full article
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