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Volume 1 (2001), Pages 122-129
Research Article

Factors Affecting Microbial Formation of Nitrate-Nitrogen in Soil and Their Effects on Fertilizer Nitrogen Use Efficiency

USADA-ARS-MWA, N. Central Soil Conservation REs. Lab, Morris, MN 56267, USA

Academic Editor: Joe Wisniewski

Copyright © 2001 Alan Olness et al.


Mineralization of soil organic matter is governed by predictable factors with nitrate-N as the end product. Crop production interrupts the natural balance, accelerates mineralization of N, and elevates levels of nitrate-N in soil. Six factors determine nitrate-N levels in soils: soil clay content, bulk density, organic matter content, pH, temperature, and rainfall. Maximal rates of N mineralization require an optimal level of air-filled pore space. Optimal air-filled pore space depends on soil clay content, soil organic matter content, soil bulk density, and rainfall. Pore space is partitioned into water- and air-filled space. A maximal rate of nitrate formation occurs at a pH of 6.7 and rather modest mineralization rates occur at pH 5.0 and 8.0. Predictions of the soil nitrate-N concentrations with a relative precision of 1 to 4 μg N g–1 of soil were obtained with a computerized N fertilizer decision aid. Grain yields obtained using the N fertilizer decision aid were not measurably different from those using adjacent farmer practices, but N fertilizer use was reduced by >10%. Predicting mineralization in this manner allows optimal N applications to be determined for site-specific soil and weather conditions.