Decision-making on the optimum timing for nitrogen fertilization on sugarcane ratoon
Low efficiency of nitrogen from fertilizers is a major concern worldwide, threatening the sustainability of sugarcane production. The N use efficiency (NUE) by sugarcane can be improved by adopting better fertilizing management practices, reducing environmental impacts. This work evaluated the effects of varying N rates and time of application on stalks and sugar yield in ratoon harvested early in the crop season. The experimental design was a randomized block in a 2 × 4 factorial design and a control (no N) with five replications, including two application times (45 or 90 DAH – days after harvest) and four N rates (50, 100, 150, or 200 kg N ha−1). The time of N fertilizer application promoted differences in stalk yield, as the cumulative yield of two harvests was increased by 8 % (15 Mg ha−1) at 45 DAH when compared to the application at 90 DAH. The application performed at 45 DAH augmented sugar yield by 10 % (2.8 Mg ha−1 of sugar) in relation to 90 DAH. The N rates that promoted the highest sugarcane yield were, respectively, 122 and 144 kg N ha−1 in the first and second crop cycles. The average economical rates obtained for the first and second agricultural cycles were, respectively, 104 and 127 kg N ha−1, demonstrating that the gains by applying high amounts of fertilizers (rates above 150 kg N ha−1) may not cover the investment.