Optimizing Nitrogen and Water Inputs for Trickle Irrigated Watermelons
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AbstractRising water costs and concern for groundwater contamination are driving growers to improve irrigation and fertilization efficiency. A tentative Best Management Practice (BMP) for nitrogen fertilization of watermelon, a high water and nitrogen fertilizer use crop, has been developed, but needs further field verification. Information from tensiometers is used to schedule irrigations and watermelon petiole nitrate levels at critical growth stages are used to recommend rates of nitrogen fertilizer to apply with the objective of producing economic yields while limiting conditions which favor nitrate leaching to groundwater. In 1991, a field experiment consisting of a complete 3x4 factorial arrangement of soil moisture tensions, -12, -7 and -4 kPa, and 60, 214 315 and 500 kg N/ha, respectively, applied through a subsurface trickle irrigation system to watermelon was conducted on a Casa Grande sandy loam at the Maricopa Agricultural Center. Petioles were sampled from the youngest mature leaf beginning at the 3-4 leaf stage and then at major growth stages until first harvest. Harvested melons were weighed and soluble solids, dry matter and N uptake were determined on two representative melons from each experimental unit. An estimate of vine dry matter and N uptake was also determined. Soil samples were taken at 30 cm depth intervals to 1.2 m and analyzed for extractable N. A trench profile method was used to determine root distribution patterns for the three soil moisture treatments receiving optimum N. Petiole nitrate levels were highly responsive to N fertilizer treatments and accurately quantified visual observations of crop N status. Petiole nitrate results also indicated that the preliminary tissue nitrate test was adequate in assisting with a nitrogen management program though minor modifications were necessary. Marketable yield showed a tension x N interaction with a ridge of maximum yield occurring from high soil water tension and low N to low soil water tension and high N with yield reductions on either side of the ridge. Yield estimates along the ridge ranged from 101 Mg/ha (45.4 ton /ac) at -8 kPa tension and 280 kg N/ha to 105 Mg/ha (47.3 ton /ac) at -4.4 kPa tension and 376 kg N/ha. A cost return analysis determined that maximum economic returns were $12,059/ha when 311 kg N/ha were applied in conjunction with -6 kPa soil tension (145 cm water). Unaccounted for N, as determined by an N balance method indicated large amounts of N were unaccounted for when high rates of N were applied under wet soil conditions. N loss was concluded to be due to either leaching and/or denitrification under these conditions.
Series/Report no.Series P-93