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A Review of Methods to Improve Nitrogen Use Efficiency in Agriculture

Authors: Lakesh K. Sharma, Sukhwinder K. Bali

Journal Title: Sustainability 2018, 10(1), 51; doi:10.3390/su10010051

ISSN: 2071-1050 (Online)

Publisher: MDPI AG

Management of nitrogen (N) is a challenging task and several methods individually and in combination are in use to manage its efficiency. However, nitrogen use efficiency (NUE) has not been improved to a level, only 33%, as predicted by the researchers while developing nitrogen management tools and methods. The primary objective of this review article is to evaluate methods and tools available to manage nitrogen. Several methods, soil testing, plant tissue testing, spectral response, fertilizer placement and timing and vegetative indexes (leaf area index, and NDVI) through drones, handheld sensors, and satellite imagery were reviewed on the subject of user-friendly and effectiveness towards NUE. No single method was found sufficient to counter the nitrogen loss. Some methods were found time consuming and unsynchronized with N uptake behavior of particular crop, for example, plant tissue testing. Use of precision agriculture tools, such as GreenSeeker, Holland Crop Circle, drone, and satellite imagery, were found better compared to conventional methods such as soil testing, but these tools can only be used when the crop is up. Therefore, N management is possible only through inseason N application methods. When 70% of the applied nitrogen is used by the crops within 25–30 days after planting, for example, corn and potatoes, it is required to apply major N rates through inseason approach and some N at planting using soil test reports. In conclusion, this article strongly advocates using two or more methods in combination when managing N.

Illustration Photo: Drone hexacopter with camera in flight over agricultural fields (CC0 Creative Commons from Pixabay.com)

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