Nitrogen availability from legume and past fertiliser history : ASSCT peer-reviewed paper
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It is likely that land-based activities within the Australian sugar industry have a negative effect on the quality of water in the Great Barrier Reef lagoon. Improvements to nitrogen use efficiency (NUE) are likely to require a greater understanding of processes affecting N availability, crop-N demand and uptake in sugarcane farming systems. Two issues associated with improving N management were investigated. Firstly, should fertiliser-N recommendations for ratoon crops be altered following a good legume fallow? Secondly, what contribution do past fertiliser-N management practices have on N uptake? Field experiments were established at Mackay. The first- and second-ratoon crops were fertilised at either 0 or 150 kg N/ha (0N; 150N). This followed a fallow period where a bare or soybean fallow were established and a plant crop that received 138 kg N/ha (bare fallow) or 18 kg N/ha (legume fallow). In the third and fourth-ratoon crops, due to a lack of any significant response to fallow management, the trial was altered to investigate the influence of previous N management on crop-N response. Plots either received 0N or 150N following a history of 0N or received 0N or 150N following a history of 150N. Crop-N uptake, leaf-N, soil mineral-N, crop yield and NUE data were collected. Results showed that the soybean fallow had no lasting N contribution through the crop cycle when N rates in the plant-cane crop were reduced as recommended in the SIX EASY STEPS. Based on this, fertilising ratoons at 'normal' N rates following legume fallows should be maintained. In the third-ratoon crop, where there was a history of 150N application, crop-N uptake was greater than where there was a history of 0N application. Cane yield at 0N was higher where there was history of 150N than 0N. These effects were not present in the fourth-ratoon crop. The results either showed a small fertiliser-history effect or were associated with greater N uptake by a crop in better condition.