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Communications in Soil Science and Plant Analysis, 38: 24012422, 2007

Copyright # Taylor & Francis Group, LLC


ISSN 0010-3624 print/1532-2416 online
DOI: 10.1080/00103620701588775

Efficiency of Nitrogen Fertilizer for Potato


under Fertigation Utilizing a Nitrogen
Tracer Technique
Mussaddak Janat
Syrian Atomic Energy Commission, Department of Agriculture,
Irrigation Division, Damascus, Syria

Abstract: Efficient crop use of nitrogen (N) fertilizer is critical from economic and
environmental viewpoints, especially under irrigated conditions. Nitrogen fertilizer
(15N-labeled urea) and irrigation methods (drip and furrow) were evaluated on
spring and fall potato cultivars under Syrian Mediterranean climatic conditions.
Field experiments were conducted in the El-Ghab Valley near Hama in fall 2000
and spring 2001 on a heavy clay soil. Four N-fertilizer applications (70, 140, 210,
and 280 kg N/ha) were applied in five equally split treatments for both irrigation
methods. Potato was irrigated when soil moisture in the specified active root depth
reached 80% of the field capacity as indicated by the neutron probe.
Higher marketable tuber yield of spring potato was obtained by fertigation compared
to furrow irrigation; the magnitude of tuber yield increases was 4, 2, 31, and 13%,
whereas for fall potato the tuber yield increases were 13, 27, 20, and 35% for N fertilizer rates of 70, 140, 210, and 280 kg N/ha, respectively. Shoot dry matter and tuber
yields at the bulking stage were not good parameters to estimate marketable tuber yield.
The effect of N treatments on potato yield with furrow irrigation and fertigation was
limited and not significant. Drip fertigation improved tuber yield of fall potato
relative to national average yield. Nitrogen uptake increased with increasing N input
under both irrigation methods. Reducing N input under both irrigation methods
improved N recoveries. Increasing N input significantly increased total N content in
plant tissues at the bulking stage. Spring potato yields were almost double those of
fall potato under both irrigation methods and all N treatments.
Nitrate (NO3) movement in the soil solution for fall potato was monitored using soil
solution extractors. Furrow irrigation resulted in greater movements of NO3-N below
the rooting zone than drip fertigation.
Received 25 May 2005, Accepted 6 October 2006
Address correspondence to Mussaddak Janat, Atomic Energy Commission of
Syria, P. O. Box 6091, Damascus, Syria. E-mail: mjanat@aec.org.sy
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M. Janat

Harvest index did not follow a clear trend but tended to decrease upon increasing N
fertilization rates beyond 140 kg N/ha under both irrigation methods. Drip fertigation
improved field water-use efficiencies at the bulking and harvest stages. Fertigation
increased specific gravity of potato tubers relative to furrow irrigation. Higher N
input decreased specific gravity of potato tubers under both irrigation methods.
Keywords: Drip irrigation, fall potato, furrow irrigation, harvest index, nitrogen-use
efficiency, spring potato, water-use efficiency

INTRODUCTION
In dry, low-rainfall areas of the world where commercial crop production is
practiced, efficient use of both water and fertilizer, especially nitrogen (N),
is crucial. These issues are of particular concern in water-short Syria, which
has more than 25,000 ha of irrigated potato (Solanum tuberosum L.), with
an average marketable yield of about 25 t/ha for the different potato
varieties grown in various climatic zones, seasons, soils, and cropping
systems (Annual Agricultural Statistics 1999).
Besides cotton (Gossypium hirsutum L.) and sugarbeet (Beta saccharifera),
potato is one of the most economical crops grown in Syria. Nitrogen fertilization,
timing of N application, and water are among the most important factors
affecting potato production. Traditionally, furrow and sprinkler irrigation are
the most common irrigation practices used for growing potato in Syria, and
the N requirement of potato is totally applied either preplant or in two split
applications (prior to planting and before flowering). This traditional practice
has led to low N- and water-use efficiencies and to a low marketable yield of
potato (Al-Harrire 2000). In addition, the financial return to fall potato is very
low in most years because of its low yield, which averages 15 t/ha (Annual
Agricultural Statistics 1999).
However, since some farmers introduced sprinkler irrigation, many of
them are now applying N in two split applications during the growing
season. Still, N fertilizer is often used in excess of its requirement
(Al-Harrire 2000). Providing N to a potato crop in a split application rather
than prior to planting application has increased N recovery, promoted early
tuber growth, increased yield, and improved quality (Lauer 1985; Hutchinson
et al. 2003; Tyler, Broadbent, and Bishop 1983; Mohammad et al. 1999;
Darwish et al. 2000).
An excessive amount of N fertilizer can cause groundwater contamination
with nitrate, especially under heavy irrigation (Stark et al. 1993). Therefore,
the employment of drip fertigation and other new irrigation techniques
based on the application of precise water and fertilizer requirements for
potato production may reduce groundwater contamination while increasing
crop yield and reducing fertilizer, water, and energy inputs (Stark et al. 1993).

N Fertilization of Potato

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A summary of data published by the Ministry of Agriculture in Syria on


the water-use efficiency for fall potato grown under intensive farming in Hama
province concluded that water-use efficiencies (WUE) calculated as marketable tuber yield per m3 of irrigation water were 2.9, 6.3, and 9.6 kg/m3 for
12.1, 20.7, and 34.4 t/ha marketable tuber yield of potato grown under drip
irrigation respectively, whereas WUE were 1.85, 2.5, and 2.8 kg/m3 for
10.3, 11.3, and 24.0 t/ha marketable tuber yield of potato grown under
surface irrigation (El-Suliman, Kayali, and Samsam 1998, 1999; Ahmad,
Kayali, and Samsam, 2000). This wide range of WUE and marketable tuber
yield values indicates the presence of an irrigation and fertilization management problem. To gain the optimum benefit under such a situation, proper
irrigation and fertilization scheduling is needed.
Employment of fertigation systems allow proper water and fertilizer
management and permit better control of soil moisture (Mohammad et al.
1999; Darwish et al. 2003; Janat and Somi 2001; Papadopoulos 1988).
In conjunction with accurate irrigation scheduling, using direct soilmoisture monitoring methods and a specified allowable depletion of soil
moisture, fertigation could be used to rationally manage irrigation water
and fertilizers. Careful irrigation scheduling and N-fertilizer application
could improve N uptake, N- and water-use efficiency, crop yields, and
reduce nitrate leaching into the groundwater (Janat and Somi 2001;
Eldredge et al. 1996; Darwish et al. 2003).
Although intensive investigations on N fertilizer and water requirements
are available, they have mostly dealt with those two factors separately. Few
studies have investigated the combined effects of N and water on potato
crops grown under fertigation (Mohammad et al. 1999; Darwish et al.
2003; Papadopoulos 1988). The objectives of this study were to assess
water- and N-use efficiencies, tuber yield, and some quality parameters of
spring and fall potato as affected by irrigation method and N application
rates.

MATERIALS AND METHODS


A field trail was conducted during the fall and spring growing seasons of 2000
and 2001 at a private farm in the El-Ghab Valley, west of Hama City in Syria.
The soil is unclassified but is most probably Calcixerollic Xerochrept silty
clay to clayey throughout the sampled soil profile. Soil was sampled before
the initiation of the experiment down to 120-cm depth at 15-cm increments
(Table 1). The area is characterized by Mediterranean-type climate. Precipitation during the fall growing season was 84.6 mm and during spring
growing season was 15.3 mm.
Fall potato (Cv. Diamont) seed pieces (about 0.1 kg) were manually
planted at 30-cm in-row spacing on 8 August 2000 and harvested on 30
December 2000. Spring potato (Cv. Draga) seed pieces (about 0.08 kg)

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Table 1.

Selected physiochemical characteristics of the soil used in the study


Exchangeable cations
(cmol kg21)

Depth (cm)

pH 1:2.5

EC
(dSm21)

Available
P (ppm)

Total
Na (%)

Spring 2001
0 15
15 30
30 45
45 60
60 75
75 90
90 105
105 120

7.96
7.96
7.98
8.02
8.05
8.09
8.12
8.14

0.32
0.37
0.40
0.37
0.38
0.39
0.37
0.40

31.5
11.41
7.81
5.77
2.95
2.29
1.24
1.12

0.095
0.085
0.090
0.080
0.070
0.070
0.060
0.055

Fall 2000
0 25
25 50
50 75
75 100

7.50
7.40
7.43
7.51

0.24
0.20
0.25
0.25

14.56
13.86
3.54
1.34

0.06
0.05
0.04
0.04

CEC (cmol
kg21)

Mg

Ca

Na

Soil
textureb

1.5
1.3
1.5
1.2
0.9
0.8
0.7
0.5

24.7
23.8
28.4
25.9
25.2
27.1
24.4
26.8

7.2
6.2
7.0
8.5
7.6
9.5
5.3
8.6

13.7
14.0
16.9
13.6
13.9
13.7
15.4
14.4

0.80
0.74
0.87
0.60
0.58
0.57
0.59
0.56

0.61
0.56
0.74
0.66
0.61
0.61
0.70
0.65

Silty clay
Silty clay
Silty clay
Clay
Clay
Clay
Clay
Clay

1.16
0.97
0.62
0.46

31.3
30.7
31.5
30.5

7.8
7.4
7.5
7.8

20.6
20.1
20.3
19.6

0.81
0.55
0.34
0.32

0.58
0.17
0.11
0.09

Silty
Silty clay
Clay
Clay

CaCO3 (%) OM (%)


9.6
10.0
9.6
10.0
8.8
9.6
9.2
8.3
8.33
8.06
8.33
9.44

M. Janat

Total soil N (%).


According to U.S. Department of Agriculture scheme.

N Fertilization of Potato

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were manually planted by the same manner on 30 March 2001 and harvested
on 5 September 2001. The field was disked, plowed, and bedded into 75-cm
hills before planting. Plot dimensions for both irrigation methods were
20  3.75 m with five rows each 20 m long.
The fertigation system was installed on the surface of the appropriate
experimental units after all the cultivation processes were completed. Each
row had its own irrigation line positioned on the top of the 75-cm hill with
50 emitters along the line. Each emitter had a discharge rate of 4 L/ha. Irrigation lines were slightly covered with soil after the second ridging. Two neutron
probe access tubes were mounted in each experimental unit at 12.5 and
25.0 cm from an emitter in the central row in both drip-fertigated and
furrow-irrigated potato. Water content measured by neutron probe was
focused on root zone rather than tuber zone. This technique enabled monitoring of soil moisture status in the active root zone and provided feedback data
for irrigation scheduling. The active root depths, which were determined by
soil-moisture depletion curve generated by neutron probe feedback data,
were 25.0 cm from planting until the middle of tuber initiation (growth
stage III) and 50 cm until maturation (growth stage V). Water was applied
when soil moisture content measured daily by neutron probe in the
specified active root reached 80% of the field capacity. Volumes of water
applied by irrigation for both surface and drip-fertigated potato were
monitored by two online propeller-type flow meters. Designated amounts of
irrigation water were applied uniformly to all N treatments for the fertigated
and the furrow-irrigated potato.
Nitrogen fertilizer treatments, applied in five equally split applications
(urea, 46 0 0) consisted of 70, 140, 210, and 280 kg N/ha either broadcasted
for the furrow-irrigated potato or injected through the drip system for the
drip-fertigated potato. In each experimental unit, 1.0 m2 labeled subplot was
established at the end of the central row and fertigated with a 5% atom
excess 15N-labeled urea [CO(15NH2)2]. The labeled subplots of the drip-fertigated potatoes were supplied with their own secondary drip system simulating
the original irrigation system, which helped to prevent any contamination into
and out of the labeled subplots. The labeled urea was applied at the same rate
as the specified N applications.
To achieve precise injection of various N fertilizer rates for the dripfertigated potato, proportional microtubes corresponding to the N treatments
(spaghetti tubes) were connected to a proportional-type injector (Dosatron
proportional injector DI 150). All N treatments under drip fertigation of the
spring potato received a total amount of 4775 m3/ha of irrigation water,
and fall potato received 3643 m3/ha. The amount of irrigation water applied
to the furrow-irrigated spring and fall potato were 8460 and 7632 m3/ha
respectively.
Phosphorus (P) fertilizer was either injected as liquid phosphoric acid
(H3PO4) for the drip-fertigated potatoes or mixed with the irrigation water
for the furrow-irrigated potato at a rate of 19.0 kg P/ha according to the

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M. Janat

soil P-availability index. Phosphorus fertilizer was applied for irrigation


methods in three applications, 50% at planting, 25% after 30 days, and 25%
after 45 days of planting. Phosphoric acid served a dual purpose of
supplying P to the potato plants and maintaining the irrigation system free
of CaCO3 deposits.
Potassium fertilizer (K) [potassium sulfate (K2SO4) 0 0 50, 125 kg
K2O/ha) was broadcasted before planting according to the soil availability
index for all experimental units under both irrigation methods.
Two Tensionic tensiometers were inserted in the soil in the central row
(for the fall potato only) to monitor the nitrate concentration in the soil
solution. The distance between each tensiometer was 30 cm parallel to the
row. Each group of tensiometers, for all experimental units and under both
irrigation methods, was inserted to different depths of 30 and 60 cm. Before
insertion into the soil, the lower portion of the tensiometer, including the
ceramic cup, was fully saturated with distilled water. All other standard
usage instructions were followed (Cuny, Wery, and Gaufres 1998). The tensiometer solution was extracted every 8 days, and the nitrate concentration in
the extract was measured using nitrate strips.
A representative 25-tuber subsample from each treatment of the spring
potato was collected, and the specific gravity was determined as the ratio of
tuber weight in air to tuber volume as determined by water displacement.
Two whole plant samples from each experimental unit were collected at the
tuber bulking stage (growth stage IV). The samples were separated into two
parts, tubers (mature and immature tubers) and aboveground vegetative
part. The two parts were weighed and then oven dried at 658C, weighed
again for dry-matter yield determination, then ground and analyzed for
15
N atom excess (%) and total N content percentage (Zapata 1990). Isotopic
15
N (%) was determined by emission spectrometry using a Jasco-N 150
emission spectrometer. Nitrogen uptake, N derived from fertilizer (Ndff),
N-fertilizer yield, and N recovery were calculated according to Zapata (1990).
Field water-use efficiency index Ef (total yield at bulking stage per unit of
total applied water) is defined, in this work, as the ratio of total dry-matter
yield of aboveground portion (Efd) or tubers at bulking stage (Efy) or marketable tubers at harvest (Efh) per unit of total applied water (kg/m3).
At harvest, tuber yield was determined from the yield subplot (the whole
plot except the labeled subplot) and sorted into marketable and unmarketable
yield according to local grading. Harvest index at bulking stage was calculated
by dividing the tuber biomass by the sum of tuber biomass and aboveground
biomass.
The experimental design was a randomized block design with six replicates. Most variables were subjected to analysis of variance, regression
analysis, and mean separation using Duncans multiple range test at the 5%
confidence level. Overall means for irrigation methods and spring and fall
potatoes were statistically compared using a t-test at the 5, 1, and 0.1%
confidence level.

N Fertilization of Potato

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RESULTS AND DISCUSSION


Spring Potato
Tuber and Dry-Matter Yield
There were no significant differences (P . 0.05) between N treatments under
drip-fertigated potato for the aboveground biomass and tuber weight at the
bulking stage, and fresh marketable yield at harvest was not affected by
increasing N input (Tables 2 and 3).
Total dry-matter yield at bulking stage was not affected by either N rate
or irrigation method (Table 4). Under furrow irrigation, bulking-stage tuber
yield weight decreased with high N (210 and 280 kg/ha), and there was a nonsignificant trend toward higher tuber yield at harvest with lower N (70 and
140 kg/ha) fertilizer treatments. The average total dry-matter yield of dripfertigated potato under most of N treatments was slightly, although not significantly, higher than the average total dry-matter yield of the corresponding N
treatments under furrow irrigation. The percent increase in dry-matter yield
was 19, 0, 37, and 36% for 70, 140, 210, and 280 kg N/ha, respectively.
Although not significant except for the 70 kg N/ha of the drip-fertigated
potato relative to the 210 kg N/ha of the furrow-irrigated potato, total fresh
marketable yield of the drip-fertigated treatments was higher than those of
furrow-irrigated treatments by 4, 2, 31, and 13% for the 70, 140, 210, and
280 kg N/ha treatments, respectively. Regression analysis showed that

Table 2. Effect of irrigation method and N fertilizer rate on the specific gravity and
tuber yield at bulking and harvest stages (spring 2001)

Irrigation
method
Fertigation

Furrow
irrigation

Nitrogen
fertilizer rate
(kg N/ha)

Specific
gravity
(g/cm3)

Fresh
marketable
yield at
harvest

Abovegrounda
biomass
(t/ha)

Tuber
weighta

70
140
210
280
70
140
210
280

1.07 a
1.00 ab
1.02 a
1.06 a
0.935 bcd
0.94 bc
0.881cd
0.86 d

54.1 a
46.9 ab
52.4 ab
52.6 ab
52.2 ab
45.9 ab
40.1 b
46.5 ab

3.1 a
2.6 a
3.3 a
3.9 a
2.2 a
2.3 a
2.0 a
2.5 a

2.5 ab
2.4 ab
2.6 ab
2.5 ab
2.5 ab
2.9 a
2.3 b
2.2 b

Note: Means within a column followed by the same letter are not statistically
different at the 5% level of confidence.
a
Dry weight at bulking stage.

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M. Janat

Table 3. Regression analysis of yield at harvest vs. aboveground biomass or tuber


weight at bulking stage (R2)
Method
Fertigation
Furrow irrigation

Aboveground
biomass

Tuber weight

0.43 ns
0.17 ns

0.51 ns
0.10 ns

aboveground biomass and tuber yield at the bulking stage were not good
estimates of fresh tuber yield.
Specific Gravity
Furrow irrigation significantly reduced tuber specific gravity (Table 2). Within
the furrow-irrigated plots, increasing N decreased specific gravity. The highest
specific gravity was obtained with the lowest N treatment under dripfertigated potato, whereas the lowest specific gravity was obtained with the
highest N treatment under furrow-irrigated potato. Specific gravity under
drip fertigation ranged between 1.00 and 1.07 g/cm3, whereas under furrow
irrigation the range of specific gravity was between 0.86 and 0.94 g/m3.
These results were in agreement with previous studies (Westermann,
Kleinkopf, and Porter 1988; Papadopolus 1988; Ojala, Stark, and Kleinkopf
1990; Rykbost, Christinsen, and Maxwell 1993; Fiebert, Shock, and
Saunders 1998).
Nitrogen Content, Uptake, and Recovery
In drip-fertigated potato, the highest N content was observed with the
280 kg N/ha treatment and the lowest with the 70 kg N/ha treatment. This
trend was similar for furrow-irrigated treatments; however, N content in
plant tissues under furrow irrigation was greater than that with drip fertigation
(Table 4). Total N uptake for drip-fertigated potato followed a trend similar to
N uptake with 140 kg N/ha as lowest and 280 kg N/ha highest. Under both
irrigation methods and N treatments, N uptake increased with increasing N
application. It is interesting to note that in the 70 kg N/ha, the crop removed
66 and 90 kg N/ha from the soil pool under drip and furrow irrigation, respectively. Increasing N input clearly resulted in depressing the percentage of N
recovery from fertilizer. The cause of this phenomena is the soil-available
N; potato crop under both irrigation methods derived 51 73% of its N requirement from the soil reservoir, leaving a relatively large amount of fertilizer N in
the soil after harvest, which consequently can affect the proceeding crop
(Darwish et al. 2003; Saoud, Van Cleemput, and Hofman 1992). Accordingly,
it is important to consider the contribution of residual N in soil to the next crop

Irrigation
method
Whole plant
Fertigation

Furrow
irrigation

Nitrogen
fertilizer rate Total dry-matter
(kg N/ha)
yield (t/ha)

70
140
210
280
70
140
210
280

5.6 a
5.0 a
5.9 a
6.4 a
4.7 a
5.2 a
4.3 a
4.7 a

N contenta
(%)

Total N
uptake
(kg N/ha)

Ndffb (%)

Ndfsc (kg N/ha)

1.61 c
1.71 c
1.79 c
1.86 c
2.68 b
3.19 a
3.34 a
3.42 a

90 bc
85 c
106 bc
119 abc
128 abc
167 a
143 ab
161 a

27 c
39 b
46 ab
49 a
29 c
38 b
45 ab
49 a

66
52
56
61
90
104
79
81

N-fertilizer
N-fertilizer
yield (kg N/ha) recovery (%)

24 d
33 cd
50 bc
58 bc
38 cd
63 ab
64 ab
80 a

N Fertilization of Potato

Table 4. Effect of irrigation method and nitrogen fertilizer rate on the dry matter yield, N uptake, N derived from fertilizer, and N recovery,
(spring 2001)

35 bc
24 c
23 c
21 c
54 a
45 ab
31 c
28 c

Note: Means within a column followed by the same letter are not statistically different at the 5% level of confidence.
a
N% in plant tissues (tubers and shoots).
b
Nitrogen derived from fertilizer.
c
Nitrogen derived from soil.

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M. Janat

and for residual N to be included in N-fertilization programs based on


integrated plant nutrient management (Johnston 1997).
Because marketable tuber yield was highest at 70 kg N/ha under both
irrigation methods, and taking into consideration total N supply in the soil,
it is therefore suggested that for the spring potato grown under these conditions, 70 kg N/ha might be enough to produce acceptable tuber yields.
Other studies of a similar nature indicated that an N rate of 135 kg N/ha or
less could maximize potato yields (Porter and Sisson 1991).
Nitrogen recovery by the whole plant (tubers aboveground) at bulking
stage for both irrigation methods, estimated from labeled subplots, showed a
different trend than N content and uptake. The highest recovery was observed
with the lowest N treatment under both drip- and furrow-irrigated potato.
Recoveries of N under drip fertigation observed in this study were lower
than those previously reported (Tyler, Broadbent, and Bishop 1983; Joern
and Vitosh 1995a, 1995b). This may be because in the present study
recovery was evaluated only up to the bulking stage. Faster uptake rate and
a relatively large portion of the applied N can be taken up later because of
translocation to the tubers (Westermann, Kleinkopf, and Porter 1988).
Hence, an underestimation of N recovery would be the consequence of
taking measurements at the bulking stage. Furthermore, N recovery by roots
was not measured. Lower N recovery also could be attributed to lateral
movement of 14N to the adjacent 15N subplots and vice versa, or to losses
of 15N-labeled fertilizer by nitrate leaching and other means of losses
(Mohammad et al. 1999). The same trends were observed for N recoveries
under furrow irrigation, with the highest N recoveries obtained with 70 and
140 kg N/ha.
Drip Fertigation versus Furrow Irrigation
Table 5 shows the overall means comparison between the two irrigation
methods of spring potato. Pair treatment means showed that under drip
Table 5. Overall means comparison of the two irrigation methods for tuber yield, DM
yield, and N content, uptake, and recovery of spring potato using t-test

Irrigation
methods
Fertigation
Furrow
irrigation

Fresh
marketable
tuber yield at
harvest (t/ha)

Total
dry-matter
yield (t/ha)

N content
(%)

51.5
46.2

5.71
4.74

1.74
3.20

Total N
uptake
(kg/ha)
100
150

N-fertilizer
recovery (%)
25.4
39.5

  
, ,
Denote significant at the 0.05, 0.01, and 0.001 probability levels,
respectively.

N Fertilization of Potato

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fertigation tuber weight at harvest stage was not significantly increased


relative to the furrow-irrigation method. Total dry-matter yield at the
bulking stage significantly increased under drip fertigation in comparison to
furrow irrigation. Different trends were observed for all pair treatment
means regarding N content in plant tissues and N uptake, where higher N
content and N uptake were found under furrow irrigation relative to drip fertigation. No significant differences between the two irrigation methods
regarding N recovery were found.
Field Water-Use Efficiency
Mean values of field WUE in relation to the yields of total dry matter (Ef),
aboveground portion (Efd), tuber at bulking stage (Ey), and marketable tuber
at harvest stage (Efh) of the spring potato, as affected by irrigation methods
and N fertilizer rates, are summarized in Table 6. Increasing N input had
little effect on the afore mentioned parameters under each irrigation
method. Large increases in field WUE of drip-fertigated relative to furrowirrigated potato were observed. The increase in field WUE under drip fertigation could be attributed to the irrigation method and integrated management.
The overall amount of irrigation water applied to spring potato during the
growing season was 4775 for the drip-fertigated potato and 8460 m3/ha for
the furrow-irrigated potato. The average values of Ef for all N treatments
under drip fertigation ranged between 1.85 and 1.45 kg/m3, whereas their
range under furrow irrigation was between 0.68 and 0.82 kg/m3. Significant
differences were found among Ef values for equivalent N treatments under
the two irrigation methods, and the percentage increase in Ef values under
drip fertigation relative to furrow irrigation exceeded 200% in some cases.
Values of field WUE for the yield of tuber at harvest (Efh) ranged between
9.8 and 11.3 kg/m3 under drip fertigation and between 4.7 and 6.2 kg/m3
under furrow irrigation. In some cases, Efh values with drip fertigation
were more than double those with furrow irrigation, indicating the potential
for saving water and improving field WUE of the potato crop with drip
irrigation.
Harvest Index
Increasing N input did not increase the harvest index with either drip fertigation and furrow irrigation (Table 6). It was expected that harvest index would
be higher under drip fertigation because of the slightly higher tuber yield of
drip-fertigated potato versus furrow-irrigated potato, however, the opposite
trend was observed, although differences were in all cases nonsignificant.
This may be due to greater vegetative growth of potato grown under drip fertigation, causing a delay in biomass partitioning to tubers. Because all N treatments of the furrow-irrigated and drip-fertigated potato were harvested at the
same time, the relative ratio of tuber to total biomass was higher under furrow

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Table 6.

Field water-use efficiencies as affected by irrigation methods and N fertilizer rates, (spring 2001)

Irrigation method
Fertigation

Furrow irrigation

N fertilizer rate
(kg N/ha)

(Ef)a (kg/m3)

(Efh)b (kg/m3)

(Efy)a (kg/m3)

(Efd)a (kg/m3)

Harvestc
index

70
140
210
280
70
140
210
280

1.62 c
1.45 d
1.73 b
1.85 a
0.75 ef
0.82 e
0.68 f
0.75 ef

11.3 a
9.8 b
11.0 a
11.02 a
6.2 c
5.4 d
4.6 e
5.5 cd

0.72 a
0.70 a
0.76 a
0.73 a
0.39 bc
0.46 b
0.37 c
0.35 c

0.90 b
0.75 c
0.97 b
1.12 a
0.35 d
0.37 d
0.31 d
0.39 d

0.45 a
0.49 a
0.45 a
0.42 a
0.54 a
0.56 a
0.54 a
0.49 a

Note: Means, within a column, followed by the same letter are not statistically different at the 5% level of confidence.
a
Field water-use efficiency (yield per unit of total applied water), for total dry matter yield (Ef), aboveground biomass (Efd), tuber yield at bulking
stage (Efy).
b
Field water-use efficiency (yield per unit of total applied water) for tuber yield at harvest.
c
Harvest index tuber biomass/tuber biomass aboveground biomass at bulking stage.

M. Janat

N Fertilization of Potato

2413

irrigation. If the growing season for the drip-fertigated potato was extended a
little longer before harvesting, the harvest might reach higher values than
those obtained in this study. The harvest index values reported here were
lower than those reported by Belanger et al. (2001).

Fall Potato
Tuber and Dry-Matter Yield
Increasing N application rate within each irrigation method did not significantly increased total fresh marketable tuber yield (Tables 7 and 8). On the
other hand, drip fertigation nonsignificantly increased total fresh marketable
tuber yield (with exception of 280 kg N/ha) relative to furrow irrigation.
The percentage increases in marketable tuber yield, although not significant,
were 13, 27, and 20% for the 70, 140, and 210 kg N/ha respectively,
whereas for the 280 kg N/ha treatment the increase in total fresh marketable
tuber yield relative to furrow-irrigated potato exceeded 35%. In comparison
with the spring growing season, it was clear that fall potato produced lower
tuber yields. This could be attributed to a longer spring growing period and
to the potato variety being used. The results were in agreement with other
studies (Stark et al. 1993; Saffigna, Keeny, and Tanner 1977). Aboveground
biomass at the bulking stage increased because of the employment of drip fertigation relative to furrow irrigation, but tuber yield at this stage did not show

Table 7. Effect of irrigation method and nitrogen fertilizer rate on the dry-matter
production and tuber yield at bulking and harvest stages (fall 2000)

Irrigation
method
Fertigation

Furrow
Irrigation

Nitrogen
fertilizer
rate
(kg N/ha)

Fresh
marketable
tuber yield
at harvest
(t/ha)

Total
dry-matter
yielda
(t/ha)

Abovegrounda
biomass (t/ha)

70
140
210
280
70
140
210
280

31.0 ab
34.4 ab
33.6 ab
36.7 a
27.5 b
27.0 b
28.0 b
27.1 b

10.3 a
10.1 a
10.8 a
10.2 a
6.8 b
8.3 ab
8.3 ab
9.6 a

5.2 a
4.3 a
5.1 a
4.8 a
3.0 b
3.0 b
3.1 b
4.8 a

Tuber
weighta
(t/ha)
5.1
5.8
5.7
5.4
3.7
5.2
5.1
4.8

ab
a
a
ab
b
ab
ab
ab

Note: Means within a column followed by the same letter are not statistically
different at the 5% level of confidence.
a
Dry weight at bulking stage.

2414

M. Janat
Table 8. Regression analysis of yield at harvest vs. aboveground biomass or tuber weight at bulking stage (R2)
Method
Fertigation
Furrow irrigation

Aboveground
biomass

Tuber weight

0.28 ns
0.16 ns

0.19 ns
0.01 ns

the same trend. At this growth stage, those two parameters did not provide
good estimates of marketable tuber yield as indicated by the regression
analysis. The average dry-matter yield of drip-fertigated potato under all N
treatments was 52% higher than the average dry-matter yield under furrow
irrigation in the 70 kg/ha N treatment. The percentage of dry-matter
increased for 140, 210, and 280 kg N/ha also, but increases were not
significant.
Nitrogen Content, Uptake, and Recovery
The highest N content in whole plant (tubers shoots) at the bulking stage
was observed with the 210 and 280 kg N/ha treatments under drip fertigation
(Table 9). Significant differences were found between the 70 kg N/ha and
280 kg N/ha treatments. The 140, 210, and 280 kg N/ha treatments under
drip fertigation all had higher N concentrations relative to the corresponding
N treatments under furrow irrigation.
The lowest N uptake by dry matter at the bulking stage was recorded for
the 70 kg N/ha treatment among fertigated potatoes, but there were not significant differences between 140 and 210 kg N/ha. Therefore, it is
suggested that for this particular growing season, 140 kg N/ha might have
been enough to produce acceptable tuber yield when applied in five equally
split applications. Furthermore, with 70 kg N/ha, the drip-fertigated potato
crop removed 117 kg N/ha from the soil pool (Ndfs), whereas the 210 and
280 kg N/ha treatments removed 139 and 129 kg N/ha respectively. Increasing N input resulted in higher reliance of the potato crop on the soil pool. A
similar trend was observed for the furrow-irrigated potato, where 70 kg N/ha
removed 84 kg N/ha, and 280 kg N/ha removed 112 kg N/ha from the
soil pool.
Fertilizer N recovery by the whole plant (tubers and aboveground
biomass) of drip-fertigated potato at the bulking stage, which was estimated
from the 15N-labeled subplots, is also shown in Table 9. The highest
recovery was associated with the application of 70 kg N/ha under drip fertigation and decreased with increasing N input. Nitrogen recovery was generally
greater in fertigated rather than furrow-irrigated potatoes. Also, total N
uptakes by the whole plant at the bulking stage of the drip-fertigated potato

Effect of irrigation method and nitrogen fertilizer rate on the N uptake and N recovery at bulking stage (Fall 2000)

Irrigation method
Whole plant
Fertigation

Furrow irrigation

Nitrogen fertilizer
rate (kg N/ha)

Total N
uptake
(kg N/ha)

N contenta
(%)

Ndff b (%)

Ndfsc (kg N/ha)

N-fertilizer
yield (kg N/ha)

70
140
210
280
70
140
210
280

175 bc
192 ab
228 a
202 ab
101 d
121 d
135 cd
172 bc

1.71 cd
1.90 bc
2.12 a
1.98 ab
1.50 ef
1.46 f
1.66 de
1.78 bcd

33 a
40 a
39 a
36 a
17 b
33 a
36 a
35 a

117
115
139
129
84
82
86
113

58 c
77 a
89 a
74 ab
17 e
40 d
49 cd
59 bc

N-fertilizer
recovery (%)

N Fertilization of Potato

Table 9.

83 a
55 b
42 c
26 d
24 d
28 d
23 d
21 d

Note: Means within a column followed by the same letter are not statistically different at the 5% level of confidence.
a
N% in plant tissues (tubers and shoots).
b
Nitrogen derived from fertilizer.
c
Nitrogen derived from soil.

2415

2416

M. Janat

were all greater than those with comparable N rates for furrow-irrigated
potatoes. This can be explained by the fact that with higher N input, a
larger amount of nitrate is leached beyond the root zone as well as the
monitored depth considered in this study, especially in the fall growing
season where a relatively large amount of rain occurs during November and
December. This suggests that higher N application frequency should be considered in the future to reduce nitrate leaching and improve N recovery.
Drip Fertigation versus Furrow Irrigation
Table 10 shows the overall means comparison between the two irrigation
methods of fall potato and the two potato varieties, Cv. Diamont and Cv.
Draga. Pair treatment means showed that under drip fertigation, tuber
weight at harvest stage significantly increased relative to the furrow
irrigation method. Total dry-matter yield at the bulking stage was significantly increased under drip fertigation relative to furrow irrigation. The
same trends were observed for all pair treatment means regarding N
content in plant tissues and N uptake, where higher N content and N
uptake under drip fertigation relative to furrow irrigation were recorded.
No significant differences between the two irrigation methods regarding N
recovery were found.
A t-test of the two varieties means are presented in Table 10. The results
revealed that spring potato significantly yielded more than fall potato, and the
same trend was observed for percentage of N content in plant tissues.
Dry-matter yield and N uptake were significantly higher for fall potato
relative to spring potato. No significant differences between N recovery of
the two potato varieties were recorded.

Table 10. Overall means comparison of drip versus furrow irrigation and spring
versus fall potato for tuber yield, DM yield, and N content, uptake, and recovery

Irrigation
methods
Fertigationa
Furrow
irrigationa
Spring potato
Fall potato
  

Fresh
marketable
tuber yield at
harvest (t/ha)

Total
dry-matter
yield
(t/ha)

N content
(%)

32.5
27.4

10.4
8.2

1.93
1.60

200
132

50.6
24.3

48.9
29.9

4.74
9.22

2.45
1.76

125
166

32.5
37.8

Total N
uptake
(kg/ha)

N-fertilizer
recovery
(%)

, ,
Denotes significant at the 0.05, 0.01, and 0.001 probability levels, respectively according to t-test.
a
Fall potato.

N Fertilization of Potato

2417

Field Water-Use Efficiency (Ef)


Because the amount of applied irrigation water and precipitation were
constant under each irrigation method (3643 m3/ha for drip-fertigated
potato and 7632 m3/ha for furrow-irrigated potato), any improvement in
field WUE under each irrigation method could be related to N treatments.
Average values for field WUE of all N treatments within the drip-fertigated
method for tuber at bulking stage (Efy) ranged between 1.61 and 1.75, and
aboveground biomass (Efd) ranged between 1.29 and 1.60 kg/m3
(Table 11). Under furrow-irrigation, Efy and Efd ranged between 0.53 and
0.75 and between 0.43 and 0.68 kg/m3, respectively. Significant differences
between all field WUE values under drip fertigation were observed relative
to the same values under furrow irrigation. The increase in WUE for total
dry-matter yield (Ef) value for the drip-fertigated potato at bulking stage
relative to corresponding N treatments of furrow-irrigated potato in most
cases exceeded 200%. Field WUE of the marketable tuber at harvest stage
(Efh) under drip fertigation increased with increasing N input. The values of
Efh for the drip-fertigated potato were higher than those of the furrowirrigated potatoes and ranged from 8.74 to 10.3 versus 3.6 to 4.2 kg/m3 for
the furrow-irrigated potato.
Drip fertigation improved field WUE at both growth stages relative to
furrow irrigation. Increasing N input with drip fertigation improved Efh but
not with furrow irrigation. The higher Ef and Efh values obtained with drip fertigation relative to furrow irrigation might be attributed to the better irrigation
water management and improved N utilization.
Harvest Index
Harvest indexes are presented in Table 11. The harvest index of the 140 kg N/ha
furrow irrigated potato was improved relative to other treatments. Harvest
index of the 210 kg N/ha furrow irrigation treatment was higher than the N
70, 210, and 280 kg N/ha drip-fertigated treatment. There were no significant
differences between other treatments.
Nitrate in Soil Solution
The level of nitrate in soil solution during the fall growing season, as a
function of sampling depth, date, N rate, and irrigation method, is shown in
Figure 1. The results show that under drip fertigation, a constant trend of
downward movement of nitrate persisted until 18 October, and then nitrate
began moving upward. The reason for upward movement might be that as
the growing season progressed and the plant canopy became larger, there
was a higher transpiration rate. The upward movement of water carried the
nitrate from the subsoil to the soil surface. Furthermore, under drip fertigation,

2418

Table 11.

Field water-use efficiencies as affected by irrigation methods and N-fertilizer rates (Fall 2000)

Irrigation method
Fertigation

Furrow irrigation

N-fertilizer rate
(kg N/ha)
70
140
210
280
70
140
210
280

(Ef)a (kg/m3)
3.10
3.04
3.30
3.10
0.97
1.20
1.20
1.41

a
a
a
a
c
bc
bc
b

(Efh)b (kg/m3)

(Efy)a (kg/m3)

(Efd)a (kg/m3)

Harvest
Indexc

8.74 c
9.4 bc
9.9 ab
10.3 a
4.2 d
3.8 d
3.6 d
4.0 d

1.61 a
1.75 a
1.72 a
1.63 a
0.53 c
0.75 b
0.73 bc
0.68 bc

1.60 a
1.29 d
1.52 b
1.44 c
0.43 f
0.44 f
0.44 f
0.68 e

0.50 d
0.58 bc
0.53 cd
0.53 cd
0.55 cd
0.63 a
0.61 ab
0.50 d

Note: Means within a column followed by the same letter are not statistically different at the 5% level of confidence.
a
Field water-use efficiency (yield per unit of total applied water) for total dry-matter yield (Ef), aboveground biomass (Efd), and tuber yield at
bulking stage (Efy).
b
Field water-use efficiency (yield per unit of total applied water) for tuber yield at harvest.
c
Harvest index tuber biomass/tuber biomass aboveground biomass at physiological maturity stage.

M. Janat

N Fertilization of Potato

2419

Figure 1. Nitrate movement within the root zone at different sampling dates and soil
depths (30 and 60 cm) of drip-fertigated and furrow-irrigated fall potato.

2420

M. Janat

water application was reduced. Therefore, no nitrate leaching was expected


because the precipitation was not high enough to cause leaching.
Early in the growing season until almost 12 October, nitrate levels under
furrow irrigation were similar to those under drip fertigation. Afterward the
movement fluctuated between downward and upward movement. The
dominant movement was downward, especially near the end of the growing
season, suggesting nitrate leaching and irrigation water movement beyond
the root zone.
The fluctuation in nitrate movement was in accordance with irrigation
scheduling, where nitrate leached after each irrigation, although some of the
nitrate left in the soil profile moved upward by capillary movement. Furrow
irrigation resulted in greater movement of NO3-N below the rooting zone
than drip fertigation. The results also indicate that irrigation and N-fertilizer
management are potential tools to develop strategies for environmentally
sound N-fertilizer management under drip irrigation.

CONCLUSIONS
Drip fertigation for potato production in a Mediterranean climate could save
more than 40% of the normally applied irrigation water, improve WUE by
more than 150%, and improve yield and specific gravity of the tubers. Split
applications of highly soluble N fertilizer under both furrow and drip irrigation
help to ensure that N is available when potato plants need it most and reduce
the amount lost beyond the root zone.
The higher N recoveries obtained with fertigated rather than furrowirrigated fall potato were associated with the injection of a lower rate of N fertilizer in the irrigation water. The injection of N fertilizer was a suitable
method to meet potato N demand. The improvement in drip-fertigated
potato yield relative to the furrow irrigation, accompanied by large savings
in the amounts of both N fertilizer and irrigation water, indicates that this
practice is highly effective for N fertilization and water-management
program for potato production under local conditions. Also, furrow irrigation
resulted in greater movements of nitrates below the rooting zone than drip
fertigation.
To improve the profitability of fall potato, N fertilizer application should
not exceed 140 kg N/ha, and fertigation should be the dominant irrigation
method for this crop under the given conditions.
The performance of spring potato (Cv. Draga) was better than the performance of fall potato (Cv. Diamont), especially in terms of marketable
tuber yield. Based on the outcome of this work, better potato varieties for
the fall growing season should be considered.
Drip fertigation is a potential irrigation and N-management tool for potato
production in Syria that can improve field WUE and N fertilizer utilization and
efficiency. Shifting toward more efficient fertigation systems should be the

N Fertilization of Potato

2421

first priority to guarantee the sustainability of irrigated agricultural production


in this arid region.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
I thank the Atomic Energy Commission of Syria for financial and technical
support. I also appreciate the technical assistance of J. El-Attar,
M. Shaheen, and A. Razouk. In addition, I deeply thank J. Ryan
(ICARDA), M. F. Al-Rabbat, and I. Ghanem for their valuable comments.

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