Fifty years of sustained investment in research and development has left the Australian cotton industry well placed to manage nitrogen (N) fertiliser. The average production in the Australian cotton industry today is greater than two tonnes of lint per hectare due to improved plant genetics and crop management. However, this average yield is well below the yield that would be expected from the amount of N fertiliser used. It is clear from the recent studies that across all growing regions, conversion of fertiliser N into lint is not uniformly occurring at application rates greater than 200–240 kg·hm−2 of N. This indicates that factors other than N availability are limiting yield, and that the observed nitrogen fertiliser use efficiency (NFUE) values may be caused by subsoil constraints such as sodicity and compaction. There is a need to investigate the impact of subsoil constraints on yield and NFUE. Gains in NFUE will be made through improved N fertiliser application timing, better targeting the amount of fertiliser applied for the expected yield, and improved soil N management. There is also a need to improve the ability and confidence of growers to estimate the contribution of soil N mineralisation to the crop N budget. Many Australian studies including data that could theoretically be collated in a meta-analysis suggest relative NFUE values as a function of irrigation technique; however, with the extensive list of uncontrolled variables and few studies using non-furrow irrigation, this would be a poor substitute for a single field-based study directly measuring their efficacies. In irrigated cotton, a re-examination of optimal NFUE is due because of the availability of new varieties and the potential management and long-term soil resilience implications of the continued removal of mineralised soil N suggested by high NFUE values. NFUE critical limits still need to be derived for dryland systems.
The current status of nitrogen fertiliser use efficiency and future research directions for the Australian cotton industry
MACDONALD Ben C. T., LATIMER James O., SCHWENKE Graeme D., NACHIMUTHU Gunasekhar and BAIRD Jonathan C.
Journal of Cotton Research. 2018; 1:15.