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ARS Home » Midwest Area » Columbia, Missouri » Cropping Systems and Water Quality Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #369544

Research Project: Sustainable Intensification of Cropping Systems on Spatially Variable Landscapes and Soils

Location: Cropping Systems and Water Quality Research

Title: Is NUE a useful sustainability metric?

item LABOSKI, CARRIE - University Of Wisconsin
item BANDURA, CHRIS - University Of Wisconsin
item CAMBERATO, JAMES - Purdue University
item CARTER, PAUL - Retired Non ARS Employee
item FERGUSON, RICHARD - University Of Nebraska
item FERNANDEZ, FABIAN - University Of Minnesota
item FRANZEN, DAVID - North Dakota State University
item Kitchen, Newell
item NAFZIGER, EMERSON - University Of Illinois
item SAWYER, JOHN - Iowa State University

Submitted to: ASA-CSSA-SSSA Annual Meeting Abstracts
Publication Type: Abstract Only
Publication Acceptance Date: 10/25/2019
Publication Date: 11/10/2019
Citation: Laboski, C.A., Bandura, C., Camberato, J.J., Carter, P.R., Ferguson, R.B., Fernandez, F.G., Franzen, D.W., Kitchen, N.R., Nafziger, E.D., Sawyer, J.E. 2019. Is NUE a useful sustainability metric? [abstract]. ASA-CSSA-SSSA Annual International Conference, November 10-13, 2019, San Antonio, Texas. Available:

Interpretive Summary:

Technical Abstract: Improving N use efficiency (NUE) of corn production is considered an important component of sustainable agroecosystems. Using data over a three-year period from 49 sites in eight Midwestern States, the effect of time of N application (at plant vs. split) and N application rate were evaluated for their effect on NUE and N recovered in above ground biomass at physical maturity and remaining in the soil after harvest. N application rate was normalized relative to the economic optimum N rate (EONR) for each site and N application timing. At N rates within 10 kg N/ha of the EONR, recovery efficiency, agronomic efficiency (AE), partial factor productivity, or physiological efficiency were variable; for example, the AE ranged from 15.2 to 51.9 kg yield/kg of N applied. Sites with very low AE, were associated with both over and under application of N relative to the EONR with over application occurring at sites with no/minimal response to N and under application at sites with excessive in-season N losses. Split N applications tended to have somewhat higher NUE at N rates less than the EONR. When NUE is defined as grain N uptake from fertilizer (output) divided by N input, NUE varied from 20 to 70% at the EONR. Nitrogen surplus (N applied minus N removed in grain) at the EONR was 34.7 and 40.4 kg N/ha at the EONR from at plant and split applications, respectively; and had a range of -100 to 200 kg N/ha. These data suggest that NUE is not a useful metric to assess adequacy of N rate selection because it varies widely near the EONR. NUE may be useful to compare practices within a field, but caution should be used when comparing NUE between fields or growing seasons.