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Effect of N fertilizer source and timing on yield and N use efciency of rainfed maize

(Zea mays L.) in KashmirPakistan


M. Kaleem Abbasi , Majid Mahmood Tahir, Nasir Rahim
Department of Soil and Environmental Sciences, The University of Poonch, Rawalakot Azad Jammu and Kashmir, Pakistan
a b s t r a c t a r t i c l e i n f o
Article history:
Received 1 July 2012
Received in revised form 20 September 2012
Accepted 20 November 2012
Available online 29 December 2012
Keywords:
Maize yield
N sources
N utilization
Nitrogen use efciency
NUE
Split application
Efcient N fertilization is considered one of the most important management strategies for sustaining or in-
creasing crop yield and quality, and improving nitrogen use efciency (NUE). A 2-yr (20082009) eld ex-
periment with rainfed maize (Zea mays L.) was conducted in the hilly region of Rawalakot Azad Jammu
and Kashmir (AJK), Pakistan to evaluate the effect of time and source of N fertilizer application on the growth,
yield, N-uptake and NUE of maize. The experiment consisted of a factorial arrangement of 2 years, two
methods/timings and four N sources including a control, arranged in a completely randomized block design
replicated three times. Treatments included two application timings i.e. single application of N at planting
and a split application i.e. 1/2 at sowing+1/2 at V
6
stage, and three N fertilizer sources i.e. urea, calcium am-
monium nitrate (CAN), and ammonium sulfate (AS), and a control. Results indicated that response of growth
characteristics to N sources was in the order CAN>AS>urea. Similarly, straw and grain yields were highest
in CAN followed by AS while urea exhibited the lowest. The relative increase in grain yield by CAN and AS was
11 and 10% in 2008 and 8 and 5% in 2009 over urea N. Split application of N increased grain yield between 4 to
9% in 2008 and 3% in 2009 over single N application. The amount of N taken up by plants depended upon the
source of N fertilizer and was in the order urea>CAN>AS. The NUE ranged between 31 to 61% in 2008 and 40
to 67% in 2009 and urea exhibited the highest NUE. Split application of N increased NUE by 23 and 21% over
single N application. Results of this study indicated that yield and N balance of maize was signicantly affect-
ed by N sources and application timing. However, response of both traits to N sources was distinctive. Further
studies (long term basis) are suggested to explore the effects of N sources on maize productivity particularly
yield and N balance relationship.
2012 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
1. Introduction
Application of N through chemical fertilizers is the dominant and
main source of N input in the crop production systems world-wide.
Currently, 50% of the human population relies on N fertilizer for
food production while about 60% of global N fertilizer is used for pro-
ducing the world's three major cereals: rice, wheat, and maize (Ladha
et al., 2005). Unfortunately, fertilizer N is not utilized efciently in the
world agriculture and the recovery of N in soilplant system seldom
exceeds 50% of applied N. In cereals N recovery efciency at global
level is reported to be less than 40% (Raun and Johnson, 1999; Raun
et al., 2002). The low recovery efciency of N is associated with its
losses by leaching, denitrication, volatilization and soil erosion
(Fageria and Baligar, 2005). Furthermore, the dynamic nature of N,
its mobility and transformation processes in soil make it an element
not utilized efciently. Raun and Johnson (1999) have calculated
that the unaccounted for 67% of applied N fertilizer represents a
$15.9 billion annual loss (assuming fertilizersoil equilibrium) and
even a 1% increase in N recovery would result in global savings of
$234 million (Glass, 2003).
Therefore, nitrogen use efciency (NUE) of applied mineral N fertil-
izer is a real concern to the researchers engaged in N cycling and N
transformations. To improve Nefciency in agriculture, Nmanagement
strategies that take into consideration improved fertilizer along with
soil and crop management practices are necessary. Among these man-
agement strategies, adequate rate, appropriate source and timings of
fertilizer application during crop growth cycle play an important role
(Abbasi et al., 2012; Fageria et al., 2006). Such practices not only in-
crease yield but also reduce cost of production and environmental
pollution.
Application timing is one of the management strategies that can
inuence the efciency in which applied N is utilized by crops
(Randall and Vetsch, 2005; Randall et al., 2003; Ruiz-Diaz and Sawyer,
2008). Split applications of N fertilizer are often recommended as a
way to reduce N losses and to improve NUE. In maize, split applica-
tion of N at six leaves stage (V
6
) stage increased grain yield (10.5
vs. 11.2 Mg ha
1
) and N uptake (168 vs. 192 kg ha
1
) compared
with single N application at planting (Sainz Rozas et al., 2004). In an-
other experiment, N recovery was increased (from 58% to 71%) and N
Geoderma 195196 (2013) 8793
Corresponding author. Tel.: +92 5824960046; fax: +92 5824960004.
E-mail address: kaleemabbasi@yahoo.com (M.K. Abbasi).
0016-7061/$ see front matter 2012 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.geoderma.2012.11.013
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losses were decreased (2.65.5% vs. 0.41%) in split application com-
pared with single N application at planting (Sainz Rozas et al., 1997).
However, there are also reports that split application of N fertilizer to
different crops did not affect their performance and productivity
(Garrido-Lestache et al., 2005; Zebarth et al., 2004). Liu and Wiatrak
(2011) reported that splitting N into two doses i.e. all N at planting
and at V
6
growth stage had no effect on maize grain yield and plant
characteristics.
The form or the source of added N plays an important role in reg-
ulating N transformations, changing N loss patterns and inuencing
NUE (Ladha et al., 2005). Urea, ammonium sulfate (AS) and ammoni-
um nitrate (AN) or calcium ammonium nitrate (CAN) are the main N
carriers used worldwide in crop production (Fageria and Baligar,
2005). However, urea is generally favored by the growers over AS
and AN or CAN due to lower application cost because urea has a
higher N analysis than AS and AN/CAN (46% vs. 21, 33 and 26% N, re-
spectively). Fewstudies had been reported previously on the compar-
ative effects of different N fertilizer sources on the growth and yields
of crops and response was generally inconsistent. Fageria et al. (2011)
conducted two greenhouse experiments on rice with urea and AS and
reported that the maximum grain yield and N-uptake at average N
rate (160 mg kg
1
) was 22 and 15% higher with AS compared to
urea. The comparative effects of urea and AN on meadow bromegrass
(Bromus bibersteinii) at two sites in central Alberta, Canada indicated
that AN generally produced higher DMY (1626%), protein yield (21
and 37%), NUE (16 and 26%) and % N recovery (20 and 38%) com-
pared with urea (Malhi, 1997). In our previous study conducted on
grassland soil, NH
4
+
source of N was found superior to NO
3

source.
In the plots where NO
3

N was added as the N source, DMY was


17601870 kg ha
1
, N recovery efciency was 24%43%, while in
NH
4
+
N added plots, both DMY and N recovery efciency were in-
creased to 31903700 kg ha
1
, and 39%48%, respectively (Abbasi
et al., 2005).
The effect of N fertilizer forms or sources on the growth, yield and
NUE of maize under eld conditions had not been reported extensive-
ly. The importance of such studies under rainfed conditions becomes
critical because N availability to plants differs with N form as a result
of differences in mobility of each form in soil solution. Keeping this in
view, the objective of the present study was to determine the effects
of different fertilizer N forms/sources applied at different timings on
growth and yield characteristics, N uptake, and NUE, of maize in a
eld experiment under rainfed mountainous conditions.
2. Materials and methods
2.1. Study site
The experiment was conducted at Rawalakot Azad Jammu and
Kashmir (AJK), Faculty of Agriculture Experimental Farm in 2008
and 2009. The study area lies between the altitude of 1800 and
2000 m above sea level and latitude 3336 in the north-east of Pakistan
under the foothills of the great Himalayas at Rawalakot district, Poonch
division, AJK, Pakistan. The detail of the study area had been described
earlier (Abbasi et al., 2012). The monthly precipitation and temperature
of the experimental area are presented in Table 1.
2.2. Experimental procedures and details
Before the onset of the experiment, soil samples were collected and
analyzed for physical and chemical properties. The soil in the study site
was clay loam in texture, Humic Lithic Eutrudepts (Inceptisols). The
background soil sample had pH 7.4, ECe 0.58 dS m
1
, organic C
8.7 g kg
1
, total N0.49 g kg
1
, available P 6.4 mg kg
1
and exchange-
able K 101 mg kg
1
. For proper seed bed preparation, the site was
plowed and left for 2 weeks. The individual plots were prepared
according to the treatments and the plot size was 3-m long and 3-m
wide.
The treatments were composed of i) three N fertilizer sources
i.e. urea, calcium ammonium nitrate (CAN), ammonium sulfate
(AS), and a control (no N); ii) two application timings i.e. a single N
application or split application. In case of single application, full
dose of N fertilizer was applied by broadcast method at planting
while in case of split application, half dose was applied at planting
and the remaining half was applied at the time when plants were
grown up to six leaves stage (V
6
). Nitrogen from different N sources
was applied at the rate of 120 kg N ha
1
. Phosphorus and K were in-
corporated into the soil approximately 5 cm deep in all plots includ-
ing the control at the time of sowing. Rates were 90 kg P
2
O
5
ha
1
and 60 kg K
2
O ha
1
as single super phosphate (SSP) and sulfate of
potash (SOP), respectively. All the fertilizers were well mixed into
the soil before sowing.
Maize (Zea Mays L.) variety Swan was used in the experiment.
Seeds were collected from National Agricultural Research Centre
(NARC) Islamabad, Pakistan. The experiment consisted of a factorial
arrangement of 2 years, two methods/timings and four N sources in-
cluding a control, arranged in a completely randomized block design
replicated three times. Maize was sown in rows at 45-cm spacing
(leaving 15 cm border on each side of the plot) on 12 and 15 May
2008 and 2009, respectively. After germination the plant to plant dis-
tance was thinned to 23 cm. All standard local cultural practices were
followed when required throughout the growth period. No irrigation
was provided, and manual weeding was carried out when required.
2.3. Measurements
The morphological characteristics of the crop like shoot length,
leaf area (LA) and chlorophyll content were recorded in standing
crop by selecting ve plants from the central/interior rows of each
plot. Chlorophyll was measured at eight leaves stage (V
8
), while
height and leaf area were measured at rst reproductive stage (R
1
,
occur about two to three days after nal vegetative stage i.e. VT).
Shoot length was measured from the base of the plant at ground
level to the top of the tassel with the use of a meter rod. Leaf area
was determined (on a plant basis) by measuring the total length
and maximum width of each leaf at tasseling (Ma et al., 2003) and
multiplied by a factor of 0.747 (Yi et al., 2006).
Chlorophyll content was measured following the method of
Bansal et al. (1999), as reported by Amujoyegbe et al. (2007). For
Table 1
Meteorological data i.e. total rainfall (mm) and minimum and maximum temperatures
(C) of the experimental site during 2008 and 2009.
Source: The Director, Regional Meteorological Centre, 46-Jail Road, Lahore, Pakistan.
Months Total
rainfall
(mm)
Min.
temp.
(C)
Max.
temp.
(C)
Total
rainfall
(mm)
Min.
temp.
(C)
Max.
temp.
(C)
Year 2008 Year 2009
January 103 4.6 10.0 158 0.8 12.8
February 148 3.0 12.1 128 0.0 12.9
March 145 4.6 21.8 140 3.2 18.1
April 200 6.0 20.8 222 5.9 21.7
May 41 9.9 26.9 101 9.5 26.6
June 160 16.0 26.4 176 11.4 28.4
July 215 17.3 26.3 192 15.3 28.6
August 167 16.1 26.0 187 16.4 27.4
September 82 11.4 25.0 116 11.7 27.2
October 29 6.1 19.3 13 5.3 23.3
November 39 2.0 20.5 14 1.0 19.2
December 38 1.1 16.2 173 0.8 14.9
Total 1367 1620
88 M.K. Abbasi et al. / Geoderma 195196 (2013) 8793
this purpose, 100 mg fresh leaf was taken (V
8
stage), crushed in
20 ml of 80% acetone and the extract centrifuged for 10 min at
1000 rpm. Absorbance of the supernatant was recorded at 645 and
663 nm in a T-80 spectrophotometer. Chlorophyll content (expressed
as mg g
1
of each sample) was estimated according to Bansal et al.
(1999) as follow:
Total chlorophyll mgg
1

20:2 A645 8:02 A663 VW =1000
where A=absorbance at the given wavelength, W=weight of fresh
leaf sample, V=nal volume of chlorophyll solution.
At maturity (on October 11 and 13, 2008 and 2009, respectively),
the center two rows of each plot were hand-harvested, tied into bun-
dles and then left in respective plots for drying for about a week. The
weight of the bundles was recorded. Grain yield was obtained after
removing ears from the harvested bundles and shelled while straw
yield was calculated from the difference in weights of the maize bun-
dles and grain yield. Thousand-Kernel weight (TKW) was determined
from 200 grain samples randomly taken from the grains produced in
each plot and then multiplied by 5. Grain yield was recorded and
corrected to a 155 g kg
1
water basis (Ma and Subedi, 2005). Harvest
index (HI) was calculated as the ratio of grain yield to the total above-
ground biomass yield (Donald and Hamblin, 1976).
2.4. Plant N concentration and N-uptake
For plant analysis, the selected stover (used for straw yield) was
cleaned, air dried, chopped into smaller pieces and then oven dried at
65 C to a constant weight. The oven-dried plant material (stalk+
leaves) were ground to pass through a 1-mm sieve in a Micro Wiley
Mill. Total N concentration was analyzed using Kjeldahl's method
(Bremner and Mulvaney, 1982). Nitrogen uptake by plant was calculat-
ed based on plant N concentration and weights of straw.
2.5. Nitrogen use efciency and its components
The N data of samples were used for calculating the different
N efciency parameters and the percentage of N in plant tissue was
determined as a function of inorganic N applied in fertilizer (Abbasi
et al., 2012).
Agronomic efciency of applied fertilizer N (NAE, kg grain kg N
applied
1
)=[grain yield (kg ha
1
) in N added plots grain yield
of control plots]/Total amount of N fertilizer applied
Physiological efciency of applied N (NPE, kg kg
1
)=[(dry mat-
ter (straw) yield (kg ha
1
) in N addeddry matter (straw) yield of
control plots)/ (total N uptake by the fertilizer treatment total N
uptake in the control)]
Nitrogen use efciency (NUE, %)=[(N uptake by the fertilized
treatmentN uptake in the control)/ total amount of N fertilizer
applied] 100
2.6. Statistical analysis
Analysis of variance (ANOVA) and least signicant difference (LSD)
tests among means were conducted for each character separately
using a MSTAT-C statistical analysis package (Michigan State Univ.,
East Lansing). Comparison of means for the individual treatments was
done at the 5%probability level based on the F-test of the analysis of var-
iance (Steel and Torri, 1980). Correlations between some of the study
parameters i.e. growth characteristics vs. yield traits; N-uptake vs.
yield and NUE were also calculated. The program SPSS 12 (www.
SPSS.com) for Windows (IBM, Armonk, NY) was used for this pur-
pose. Signicance levels were computed following Muhammad
(1995, p. 252268).
3. Results and discussion
3.1. Weather conditions
Rainfall during the two years of the experiment contrasted mark-
edly (Table 1). Total rainfall during 2009 was 1620 mm compared
with 1367 mm in 2008. The rainfall distribution between growing
seasons differed during the planting month of May, 101 mm in
2009 (planting month) compared with 41 mm in 2008. Similarly,
rainfall during the reproductive stage (August and September) was
also higher in 2009 (187 and 116 mm) than in 2008 (167 and
82 mm). The one factor which may affect the variability in the mea-
sured characteristics of maize is the implications of the measured
weather data on plant response. The rainfall pattern during both
years clearly indicated exceptionally dry conditions after September
that may be one of the major causes of low maize yield under rainfed
conditions. In comparison with rainfall, temperature difference be-
tween the two years was very small and generally both minimum
and maximum temperature for most part of the growing season
was the same (Table 1).
3.2. Growth characteristics
Analysis of variance showed that maize growth characteristic
i.e. leaf area (LA), and leaf chlorophyll content were signicantly
affected by methods and N sources while plant height was signi-
cantly affected only by N sources (Table 2). The interactive effect for
different variables was not signicant except yrmethod interaction
for plant height. Similarly, the signicance levels for other measured
characteristics are also presented in Table 2. Growth characteristics
of maize were signicantly increased by N application (Table 3).
The N decient plants showed signicantly lower plant height, LA
and chlorophyll content when compared with the plants treated
with N fertilizer (Table 3). A substantial increase in growth in re-
sponse to N fertilization indicated the signicance of N fertilizer
for maize in N poor soil where many farmers grow this crop with lit-
tle to no N fertilizer application.
Differences among N sources was signicant and generally CAN
displayed the highest plant height, LA (2009) and chlorophyll content
while urea showed the lowest. However, LA in 2008 was higher in AS
treated plants compared to CAN and urea. Averaged across methods
and year, the relative increase in plant height, LA and chlorophyll con-
tent by CAN was 5 and 8%, 2 and 5%, 6 and 17% over AS and urea,
respectively.
The efciency of different N sources was inuenced by the type of
N fertilizer. Results indicated that urea was less effective (with regard
to maize growth traits) than CAN and AS. This is in agreement with
the ndings of Malhi (1997) who reported that urea was less effective
than AN for meadow bromegrass. Similarly, AS showed higher re-
sponse than urea in rice (Fageria et al., 2011) that maybe associated
with higher acidity producing capacity of AS compared with urea.
The superiority of CAN compared to AS and urea in the present
study maybe due to the immediate supply of NO
3

to plants in early
growth stages and then N will be available from NH
4
+
sources. It has
been reported that a majority of plants grows best with a mixture
of NH
4
+
and NO
3

and the former may cause growth inhibition in


many species when supplied as the exclusive N source (Mahmood
and Kaiser, 2003).
3.3. Yield and yield components
Nitrogen fertilizers signicantly increased TKW from 213.0 and
218.7 g (in 2008 and 2009) in the control to the maximum of 291.5 g
indicating 37% increase (Table 4). Nitrogen source had signicant effect
on TKW and among three N sources, CAN exhibited the highest TKW
(Table 4). Averaged over methods, TKW obtained from CAN was 6
89 M.K. Abbasi et al. / Geoderma 195196 (2013) 8793
and 15% higher than urea in 2008 and 2009, respectively. The difference
between CANand AS in 2008 was non-signicant while TKWfromCAN
in 2009 was 8% higher than AS. Similarly, TKWwas signicantly higher
(4.3%) under AS compared to urea. In contrast with our ndings Fageria
et al. (2011) reported that TKW of rice was 1.3% higher with urea com-
pared to AS.
Straw yields at physiological maturity were signicantly increased
by N fertilizer application (Table 4). Relative yield increments in re-
sponse to N fertilization ranged between 28 and 39% over the control.
Increments in maize straw yield by N fertilizers were also reported
earlier under different soils and environmental conditions (Abbasi
et al., 2012; Azeez et al., 2006; Barbieri et al., 2008; Hammad et al.,
2011).
Response of straw yield to different N sources was similar to that
shown for TKW and signicant differences were observed among N
sources (Table 4). Highest straw yield in both years was recorded in
CAN followed by the AS (except in split application in 2008) while
urea N showed the lowest yields. Malhi (1997) reported 7 and 15%
lower dry matter yield (DMY) of meadow bromegrass from the eld
amended with urea N compared with ammonium nitrate. Our results
were consistent with those reported by Watson (1987) in perennial
ryegrass that ammonium nitrate gave the highest dry matter yield
and urea the lowest with AS being the intermediate. Under green-
house conditions, Watson (1988) conducted experiments on ryegrass
by applying KNO
3
, AS and urea N sources and reported a 39 and 23%
increase in ryegrass DMY by KNO
3
compared with urea and AS N
sources, respectively. However, in the rice cultivation Reddy and
Patrick (1978) and Bufogle et al. (1998) reported no differences in
straw or grain yields between AS and urea N sources.
Split application of N showed signicant effect on straw yield
(Table 4). Generally, straw yields signicantly increased when
fertilizers were applied in two splits compared with single N appli-
cation. The relative increases in 2008 and 2009 were between 1.7 to
4.8%, and 1.4 to 1.8%, respectively. Under similar environmental
conditions, maize straw yield was increased by 22% when N fertiliz-
er was applied in splits compared with single N application
(Amanullah and Shah, 2010). The authors explained that split appli-
cation of N delayed phenological development, increased crop
growth rate, leaf area per plant and plant height that resulted in
higher straw/dry-matter yield. Straw yields also showed signicant re-
sponse to the years and in the year 2009 yields were relatively higher
(7356 kg ha
1
) than the yields recorded in 2008 (7166 kg ha
1
).
Application of different N fertilizer sources signicantly increased
grain yield (Table 4). The relative increase in yield associated with N
fertilization ranged between 78 to 112% (2008) and 93 to 115%
(2009) over the control. In our previous study maize grain yields at
different N rates were increased by 80 to 88% over the control
(Abbasi et al., 2012). Similarly, in another study, maize grain yields
were increased 2-fold (compared to the control) when urea N was
applied at the rate of 120 or 150 kg N ha
1
(Abbasi et al., 2010).
Barbieri et al. (2008) reported that the relative increase in grain
yield of maize following the application of N fertilizers was 34 and
50% over the control.
Grain yields were signicantly affected by N sources (Table 4). The
highest yields in both years were obtained from CAN followed by AS
while urea exhibited the lowest yield. Averaged across application
methods, the relative increases in grain yields by CAN and AS were
11 and 10% in 2008 and 8 and 5% in 2009 over the urea N source.
The difference between CAN and AS in 2008 was non-signicant
while CAN showed signicantly higher yields (3%) over AS in 2009.
Our results were in accordance with the recent ndings of Hojka
(2012) who reported that application of CAN resulted in 7% and 11%
Table 2
Analysis of variance (ANOVA) for growth, yield and N accumulation of rainfed maize in response to N source (N), method/timings of N application (M), years (Y) and their inter-
actions in 2008, and 2009 at Rawalakot, Azad Jammu and Kashmir, Pakistan.
ANOVA
Source DF Plant height Leaf area (LA) Chlorophyll content 1000-kernel weight (TKW) Straw yield Grain yield Harvest index N concentration N-uptake
Years (Y) 1 ns
a
ns ns ns

ns ns

Methods (M) 1 ns

ns

N sources (N) 3

YM 3

ns ns ns ns

ns ns ns
YN 3 ns ns ns ns ns

ns ns
MN 3 ns ns ns ns ns

ns

YMN 3 ns ns ns ns ns ns ns ns ns
CV, %

5.41 3.16 13.35 5.83 1.58 1.41 1.26 7.68 4.28


a
ns, not signicant.
Signicant at the 0.05% probability level.
Signicant at the 0.01% probability level.
Table 3
Effect of N fertilizer sources and timings of N application on the growth components of maize i.e. plant height, leaf area (per plant basis) and chlorophyll content (on fresh weight
basis) grown under eld conditions at Rawalakot, Azad Jammu and Kashmir in 200809.
N sources Plant height Leaf area Chlorophyll contents
2008 2009 2008 2009 2008 2009
Full Split Full Split Full Split Full Split Full Split Full Split
cm cm
2
mg g
1
Control 192.3d 192.3d 196.3d 196.3d 738.4d 738.4d 743.7d 743.7d 5.8b 5.8c 5.3c 5.3c
Urea 214.4c 202.7c 200.3c 221.6b 804.4c 815.5c 801.8c 823.5c 6.4b 9.1b 7.7b 9.8b
CAN 230.7a 222.8a 217.7a 235.4a 840.3b 862.1b 846.3a 867.5a 8.4a 10.1a 9.1a 10.9a
AS 216.7b 214.8b 211.8b 219.5b 868.5a 904.3a 835.3b 862.7b 8.9a 9.5b 8.2b 9.7b
Means of three replicates with different letters in the same column indicate signicant differences (P0.05).
90 M.K. Abbasi et al. / Geoderma 195196 (2013) 8793
yield increases in maize compared with AS and urea, respectively. In a
greenhouse study, Fageria et al. (2011) reported that across six N
rates applied to rice, AS produced 10% higher grain yield compared
with urea while application of AS at the rate of 160 mg N kg
1
pro-
duced 22% higher grain yield compared with urea at the same rate
of N. However, our results suggested that under rainfed conditions
(without irrigation) CAN proved to be a superior N fertilizer for
maize grain yield compared with AS and urea.
Grain yields exhibited a signicant response to split application
(Table 4). The overall increase in grain yields due to split application
by different N sources ranged between 49% in 2008 and 3% in 2009.
A 6% increase in maize grain yields due to split application was
recorded in our previous study (Abbasi et al., 2012). Nazakat et al.
(2004) reported that application of urea N during sowing (50%),
and before the tasseling (50%), resulted in the highest plant height
and cob length, higher number of grains per cob and the highest
grain yield in maize. The increase in grain yield due to split applica-
tion might be due to the availability of more N during later growth
periods or due to the enhanced N uptake (as found in the present
study) thereby increasing crop performance and grain yield.
A signicant year effect for both straw and grain yields suggested
that crop growth conditions were slightly better in 2009 than in 2008.
Both minimum and maximum temperatures of both years were com-
parable i.e. 7 and 21 C and 7 and 22 C while the total rainfall in 2009
was 17% higher than that recorded for 2008, which might have affect-
ed both the growth and yield components of maize.
The harvest indexes (HI) in the control were 29 and 28% in 2008 and
2009, respectively (Table 5). Nitrogen fertilization signicantly in-
creased HI range between 36 and 39%. The increase in HI due to Nfertil-
ization may be due to increased leaf area per plant, crop growth rate,
and grain yield as described earlier by Amanullah and Shah (2010).
Among the three N fertilizer sources applied, non-signicant difference
was recorded in 2009 while HI in 2008 was signicantly higher in CAN
and AS compared with urea N.
3.4. Plant N balance
Shoot N was increased 2-fold (over the control) following N fertil-
izer application (Table 5). Among different N sources, urea exhibited
the highest N concentration followed by CAN while AS showed the
lowest. Split N application signicantly increased shoot N concentra-
tion and the relative increases due to split application were 10 to 15%
in 2008 and 7 to 19% in 2009 over single N application at planting.
Nitrogen fertilization increased crop N-uptake in both years of ex-
periment (Fig. 1). In 2008, N uptake in the control was 40 kg N ha
1
which signicantly increased to 77 to 113 kg N ha
1
by N fertilizers.
In 2009, the corresponding increase in N-uptake was 86 to 119 kg N
ha
1
compared with 38 kg N ha
1
in the control.
Increased N uptake with N fertilization might be attributed to
increased above ground biomass yield as the N-uptake followed a
pattern similar to that for plant biomass and a signicant correlation
(r=0.87) (Table 6) existed between the two. The N-uptake in maize
due to N fertilization and the relationship between dry-matter yield
and N uptake was in accordance with our previous study (Abbasi et
al., 2010, 2012). High above ground dry matter yield has been
shown to correlate strongly with total above ground Nuptake in trop-
ical maize populations (Azeez et al., 2006). Results of this study also
demonstrated that both straw and grain yield in our conditions
depended upon the growth characteristics and N balance of maize.
There were signicant correlations of plant height, LA, chlorophyll
contents, TKW and N contents with straw and grain yield (r=0.90,
0.91; r=0.92, 0.95; r=0.97, 0.98; r=0.95, 0.96 and r=0.91, 0.87, re-
spectively) (Table 6). Similarly, plant N-uptake showed a signicant
and positive correlation with straw and grain yield (r =0.87, 0.82,
respectively), indicating the importance of N availability and its
supply to plants for increasing yield and productivity.
The amount of N taken up by plant depended upon the type of fer-
tilizer applied and signicant differences were observed among N
sources (Fig. 1). Averaged across methods, N-uptake in both years
was in the order urea>CAN>AS. The relative increases in N-uptake
by urea over CAN and AS were 10, and 25% in 2008 and 7, and 22%
in 2009, respectively. The corresponding increments in N-uptake by
CAN over AS were 13 and 14%, respectively. However, it should be
mentioned that the N-uptake described here included tissue (straw)
N-uptake not N in grains which may affect the N source response
differently.
Split application of N fertilizers signicantly increased N uptake
(Fig. 1). The relative increases in N-uptake (average across N source)
due to split application were 18 and 16% in 2008 and 2009, respec-
tively over single N application. Among different N fertilizer sources,
urea exhibited the highest response to split application in 2008
while in 2009 CAN showed the maximum response. Response of AS
to split application was lowest in both years. Increment in N-uptake
in maize due to split application was also observed in our previous
study where N-uptakes were increased by 6 and 13% over single Nap-
plication at planting (Abbasi et al., 2012). In another experiment on
Table 4
Effect of N fertilizer sources and timings of N application on the yield and yield components of maize grown under eld conditions at Rawalakot, Azad Jammu and Kashmir in
200809.
N sources 1000-kernel weight Straw yield Grain yield
2008 2009 2008 2009 2008 2009
Full Split Full Split Full Split Full Split Full Split Full Split
g kg ha
1
kg ha
1
Control 213.0d 213.0d 218.7c 218.7d 5748d 5748d 5816d 5816d 2335d 2335d 2378d 2378d
Urea 259.0c 269.0c 235.0b 251.6c 7386c 7741b 7672c 7810c 4155c 4544c 4588c 4716c
CAN 282.0a 277.0a 269.3a 291.5a 7621a 7867a 7961a 8098a 4739a 4942b 4976a 5106a
AS 267.3b 274.0b 249.6b 267.5b 7544b 7674c 7781b 7890b 4632b 4955a 4818b 4974b
Means of three replicates with different letters in the same column indicate signicant differences (P0.05).
Table 5
Effect of N fertilizer sources and timings of N application on harvest index and
N-concentration in maize shoot (stalk+leaves) grown under eld conditions at
Rawalakot, Azad Jammu and Kashmir in 200809.
N sources Harvest index N concentration
2008 2009 2008 2009
Full Split Full Split Full Split Full Split
% g kg
1
Control 29c 29c 28b 28b 6.9c 6.9d 6.6d 6.6d
Urea 36b 37b 37a 38a 12.7a 14.6a 13.1a 15.2a
CAN 38a 39a 38a 39a 11.2b 12.7b 11.6b 13.8b
AS 38a 39a 38a 39a 10.2b 11.2c 11.1c 11.9c
Means of three replicates with different letters in the same column indicate signicant
differences (P0.05).
91 M.K. Abbasi et al. / Geoderma 195196 (2013) 8793
maize, split application of N fertilizer increased N-uptake to 192 kg N
ha
1
compared with 168 kg N ha
1
applied at planting (Sainz Rozas
et al., 2004). The authors explained that greater N-uptake due to split
application was associated with reduction in N losses i.e. denitrica-
tion, immobilization and leaching.
Variation in N sources signicantly affected the agronomic, physi-
ological and NUE of applied N (Table 7). The agronomic efciency
(NAE) of maize from different N sources ranged between 1522 and
1823 kg kg
1
while the physiological efciency (NPE) ranged be-
tween 2748 and 2541 in 2008 and 2009, respectively. Among N
sources, CAN and AS were comparable for NAE while urea exhibited
lower values. Averaged across year and methods, the NPE of maize
from urea, CAN and AS were 29, 37 and 42 kg kg
1
, respectively
showing AS superior to urea and CAN.
Nitrogen use efciency (NUE) of maize grown under different N
fertilizer sources varied with N sources and split application
(Table 7). Among N sources, NUE values ranged between 31 to 61%
in 2008 and 40 to 67% in 2009. Averaged across application methods,
the NUE values of maize in 2008 were 52, 42 and 35% for urea, CAN
and AS while the corresponding values for the year 2009 were 60,
53 and 43%, respectively. Relative increments (%) in NUE by urea
were 25, 49% in 2008 and 12, 38% in 2009 over CAN and AS, respec-
tively. Similarly, the relative increments (%) in NUE by CAN was 19
and 23% over AS.
Split application of N fertilizer showed signicant effect on NUE
(Table 7). The NUE values of maize were 37 and 46% (average over
N sources) when single/full N was applied at planting (2008 and
2009) but these were increased to 48 and 58% when N was applied
as split dose, indicating 23 and 21% increase over single N application.
4. Conclusions
In order to increase NUE and optimize crop yield, selection and
recommendation of the most appropriate N source under particular
conditions is an important management strategy. Although urea is
the most dominant and main source of N applied throughout the
world yet a comparative study was conducted to examine the ef-
ciency of urea, CAN and AS on the productivity and NUE of maize
grown under hilly region of Kashmir, Pakistan. Results of this study
indicate that CAN is superior to urea and AS with regard to growth
and yield of maize. A signicant increase in growth characteristics,
straw and grain yield of maize by CAN indicate that application of
CAN may be an economical option when maize is grown for both fod-
der and grain production in the rainfed mountainous ecosystems.
However, N balance studies exhibited superiority of urea to CAN
and AS. The N balance studies were based on tissue (straw) N concen-
tration and N-uptake without grain N that may affect these results if
added. The discrepancy between growth-yield traits and N balance
N Fertilizer sources N Fertilizer sources
N
-
u
p
t
a
k
e

(
k
g

h
a
-
1
)
N
-
u
p
t
a
k
e

(
k
g

h
a
-
1
)
0
20
40
60
80
100
120
140
FullN
SplitN
Control UN CAN AS Control UN CAN AS
0
20
40
60
80
100
120
140
FullN
SplitN 2008 2009
Fig. 1. Effect of N fertilizer sources and timings of N application (single application at planting or split application) on N-uptake (kg ha
1
) of maize shoot (stalk+leaves without
grain) grown under eld conditions at Rawalakot Azad Jammu and Kashmir, Pakistan in 2008 and 2009. Vertical lines on each bar represent the LSD (P0.05) among different
N sources.
Table 6
Pearson correlation (r) coefcients between plant height, leaf area, chlorophyll content, seed yield, dry matter yield, Harvest index, N content and uptake of wheat in response to
different N fertilizer application at Rawalakot Azad Jammu and Kashmir.
Parameters Plant height Leaf area Chlorophyll content 1000 kernel weight Straw yield Grain yield Harvest index N concentration
cm cm
2
mg g
1
g kg ha
1
% g kg
1
Leaf area 0.90

Chlorophyll content 0.96

0.96

1000 kernel weight 0.99

0.94

0.99

Dry matter yield 0.90

0.92

0.97

0.95

Grain yield 0.91

0.95

0.98

0.96

0.99

Harvest index 0.91

0.97

0.99

0.96

0.99

0.99

N content 0.71 0.69 0.81

0.78 0.91

0.87

0.84

N-uptake 0.51 0.55 0.73

0.65

0.87

0.82

0.81

0.99

Correlation is signicant at the 0.05 level.


Correlation is signicant at the 0.01 level.
92 M.K. Abbasi et al. / Geoderma 195196 (2013) 8793
to N sources is not fully understood. However, the possible role of
changes in soil pH (if any) or disparity in N losses (among different
N sources) may be a potential cause of these differences.
Acknowledgments
This work was funded by the Higher Education Commission,
Islamabad, Pakistan via project no. 20367/R&D/05.
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Table 7
Effect of N fertilizer sources and timings of N application on agronomic efciency (NAE,
kg/kg), physiological efciency (NPE, kg/kg), and nitrogen use efciency (NUE, %) of
applied N in maize in 2008 and 2009.
N
sources
NAE NPE NUE
2008 2009 2008 2009 2008 2009
Full Split Full Split Full Split Full Split Full Split Full Split
kg/kg kg/kg %
Control
Urea 15b 18b 18c 19b 32c 27c 30b 25c 43a 61a 52a 67a
CAN 20a 22a 22a 23a 41b 35b 40a 31b 38b 45b 45b 61b
AS 19a 22a 20b 22a 48a 42a 41a 37a 31c 39c 40c 46c
Means of three replicates with different letters in the same column indicate signicant
differences (P0.05).
93 M.K. Abbasi et al. / Geoderma 195196 (2013) 8793

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