U.S. Department of Agriculture: Agricultural Research Service, Lincoln, Nebraska


Document Type


Date of this Version



Agronomy Journal. 2021;113:5541–5555.

DOI: 10.1002/agj2.20888


U.S. government work


Nitrogen fertilizer recommendations in corn (Zea mays L.) that match the economically optimal nitrogen fertilizer rate (EONR) are imperative for profitability and minimizing environmental degradation. However, the amount of soil N available for the crop depends on soil and weather factors, making it difficult to know the EONR from year-to-year and from field-to-field. Our objective was to explore, within the framework of hydrologic soil groups and drainage classifications (HGDC), which site-specific soil and weather properties best estimated corn N needs (i.e., EONR) for two application timings (at-planting and side-dress). Included in this investigation was a validation step using an independent dataset. Forty-nine N response trials conducted across the U.S. Midwest Corn Belt over three growing seasons (2014–2016) were used for recommendation model development, and 181 independent site-years were used for validation. For HGDC models, soil organic matter (SOM), clay content, and evenness of rainfall distribution before side-dress N application were the properties generally most helpful in predicting EONR. Using the validation data, model recommendations were within 34 kg N ha–1 of EONR for 37 and 42% of the sites with a root mean square error (RMSE) of 70 and 68 kg N ha–1 for at-planting and side-dress applications, respectively. Compared to state-specific recommendations, sites needing ha–1 or no N were better estimated with HGDC models. In contrast, for sites where EONR was >150 kg N ha–1, HGDC models underestimated N needs compared to state specific. These results show HGDC groupings could aid in developing tools for N fertilizer recommendations.

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