Optimal nitrogen (N) management is essential for profitable vegetable crop production and to minimize N losses to the environment that are a consequence of an excessive N supply. Proximal optical sensors placed in contact with or close to the crop can provide a rapid assessment of a crop N status. Three types of proximal optical sensors (chlorophyll meters, canopy reflectance sensors, and fluorescence-based flavonols meters) for monitoring the crop N status of vegetable crops are reviewed, addressing practical caveats and sampling considerations and evaluating the practical use of these sensors for crop N management. Research over recent decades has shown strong relationships between optical sensor measurements, and different measures of crop N status and of yield of vegetable species. However, the availability of both: (a) Sufficiency values to assess crop N status and (b) algorithms to translate sensor measurements into N fertilizer recommendations are limited for vegetable crops. Optical sensors have potential for N management of vegetable crops. However, research should go beyond merely diagnosing crop N status. Research should now focus on the determination of practical fertilization recommendations. It is envisaged that the increasing environmental and societal pressure on sustainable crop N management will stimulate progress in this area.
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