Nitrogen use efficiency (NUE) in maize (Zea mays
L.) is an important trait to optimize yield with minimal input of nitrogen (N) fertilizer. Expired Plant Variety Protection (ex-PVP) Act-certified germplasm may be an important genetic resource for public breeding sectors. The objectives of this research were to evaluate the genetic variation of N-use traits and to characterize maize ex-PVP inbreds that are adapted to the U.S. Corn Belt for NUE performance. Eighty-nine ex-PVP inbreds (36 stiff stalk synthetic (SSS), and 53 non-stiff stalk synthetic (NSSS)) were genotyped using 26,769 single-nucleotide polymorphisms, then 263 single-cross maize hybrids derived from these inbreds were grown in eight environments from 2011 to 2015 at two N fertilizer rates (0 and 252 kg N ha−1
) and three replications. Genetic utilization of inherent soil nitrogen and the yield response to N fertilizer were stable across environments and were highly correlated with yield under low and high N conditions, respectively. Cluster analysis identified inbreds with desirable NUE performance. However, only one inbred (PHK56) was ranked in the top 10% for yield under both N-stress and high N conditions. Broad-sense heritability across 12 different N-use traits varied from 0.11 to 0.77, but was not associated with breeding value accuracy. Nitrogen-stress tolerance was negatively correlated with the yield increase from N fertilizer.
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