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


Document Type


Date of this Version



Published in J. Plant Phyriol Vol 148. pp. 523-529 (1990).


Nitrogen is essential for crop production, but also contributes to eutrophication of surface water and degradation of drinking water quality. Modern corn production requires relatively large quantities of N, which are generally supplied by fertilizers. Over-application of N fertilizers and animal wastes frequently results in nitrate leaching. Synchronizing N availability with crop N need offers the potential to protect the environment without sacrificing production. Tools are needed to rapidly and easily monitor crop N status to make timely decisions regarding fertilizer application. Analytical and optical techniques were evaluated with greenhouse grown corn at silking to evaluate several methods to monitor crop N status. A portable chlorophyll meter was used to measure chlorophyll content of leaves by mean of transmittance measurements. Leaf N concentration and chlorophyll meter readings were positively correlated, but were also affected by water stress and hybrid differences. Water stress decreased chlorophyll meter readings hut increased leaf N content and diffusive resistance. Nitrogen stress decreased leaf N concentration, chlorophyll meter readings, and diffusive resistance. Both water and N stresses affected crop reflectance measurements. Reflectance values in the green and near IR portions of the spectrum were inversely related to crop N status. Water stress increased reflectance in red, green, and near IR wavelengths. Water stress by N status interactions were significant for chlorophyll meter readings as well as reflectance measurements. Both leaf reflectance and chlorophyll meter measurements provided a good indication of N status for adequately watered plants, hut the relationships were poor for plants grown under prolonged water stress.