Timing of limited irrigation and N-injection for grain sorghum

Research paper by Daniel W. Sweeney, Freddie R. Lamm

Indexed on: 01 Sep '93Published on: 01 Sep '93Published in: Irrigation Science


When subsurface irrigation sources are lacking in humid and subhumid regions, high yearly precipitation may allow for storage of surface water in farm ponds and lakes for irrigation. Irrigation at selected growth stages may avoid critical stress for crops with some drought tolerance, such as grain sorghum [Sorghum bicolor (L.) Moench]. Because grain sorghum is responsive to N, injecting fertilizer N through the irrigation system also may improve production. The objective of this study was to determine the effect of timing of limited-amount irrigation and N fertigation on grain sorghum yield; yield components; grain N content; and N uptake at the 9-leaf, boot, and soft dough stages. The experiment was conducted from 1984 to 1986 on a Parsons silt loam (fine, mixed, thermic, Mollic Albaqualf). The experiment was designed as a 6 × 2 factorial plus two reference treatments. Six timings for irrigation were targeted at the 9-leaf (9L), boot (B), soft dough (SD), 9L-B, 9L-SD, and B-SD growth stages. N application systems were either 112 kg N ha−1 surface-banded preplant or 56 kg N ha-1 preplant and 56 kg N ha−1 injected through the irrigation at a rate of 28 kg N ha−1 per 2.5 cm of irrigation. Two reference treatments included were one receiving N but no irrigation and one receiving neither N nor irrigation. In 1984, irrigation generally increased grain sorghum yield by nearly 1 Mg ha−1. However, yield was not affected by selection of irrigation timing, N application method, or the interaction of the two factors. This was partly because early irrigations increased kernels/head, whereas later irrigations increased kernel weight. Above average rainfall during the growing season, especially just prior to the 9-leaf, boot, and soft dough growth stages, resulted in no irrigations in 1985. In 1986, yield was increased by early (9-leaf) irrigations as compared to soft dough irrigations. Early irrigations resulted in higher kernels/head; however, rainfall after the soft dough irrigation may have masked any treatment effect on kernel weight. As in 1984, N application method did not affect grain sorghum yields, even though yield was reduced to less than 3 Mg ha−1 with no N nor irrigation. In both 1984 and 1986, N uptake at succeeding growth stages appeared to respond to irrigations made at previous growth stages. Injecting half of the fertilizer N through the irrigation system did not affect N uptake compared to applying all N preplant. The lack of response to fertigation may be related to the low leaching potential of the soil used in this study.