Luxury production of leaf chlorophyll and mid-season recovery from nitrogen deficiencies in corn

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Deficiencies of N during the growth of corn (Zea mays L.) are often diagnosed by using chlorophyll meters that measure chlorophyll content in leaves. The diagnoses are based on the assumption that above-optimal supplies of N do not significantly influence chlorophyll meter readings (CMRs). The objective of this research was to assess the possibility that above-optimal supplies of N impacted chlorophyll concentration and the effects imposed a limitation on the minimum N deficiencies that can be detected by chlorophyll meters. Our approach was to monitor temporal patterns in CMRs of nonirrigated corn that received various rates of N at various times. The results showed that the time at which N deficiency symptoms first become detectable was closely related to the amounts by which N rates fell short for maximizing grain yield. The measured symptoms of N deficiency changed with time. Temporal patterns in CMRs were affected by N treatments while yields were not greatly affected. In-season N applications made to plants that started to show N deficiencies caused CMRs to converge with those taken on plants that always had adequate N. These observations suggest that above-optimal supplies of N may induce a luxury production of chlorophyll that is analogous to luxury uptake of nutrients. These problems severely limit the value of using chlorophyll meters to guide in-season fertilization in fields having near-optimal supplies of N. The underlying problem is the uncertainty caused by difficulties associated with distinguishing luxury production of chlorophyll from symptoms of N deficiencies.

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