Hangs, R. D., Schoenau, J. J., Van Rees, K. C. J. and Knight, J. D. 2012. The effect of irrigation on nitrogen uptake and use efficiency of two willow (Salixspp.) biomass energy varieties. Can. J. Plant Sci. 92: 563–575. Nitrogen (N) fertilizers historically have been applied to support increased productivity of purpose-grown willow (Salix spp.) biomass energy plantations. However, a frequently observed lack of willow growth response to added fertilizer N is often attributed to poor fertilizer use efficiency. The objective of this study was to determine the effect of irrigation on the recovery of broadcast 15N-labelled fertilizer, applied during the final year of a 3-yr rotation, by two willow varieties. A split-split-plot experiment was established on a fertile heavy clay soil in Saskatoon, SK, Canada, which consisted of two willow varieties (Charlie and SV1), three irrigation treatments (no irrigation, 75%, and 100% field capacity), and two fertilization treatments (1× and 2× the recommended fertilizer rate of 100:30:80:20 N:P:K:S; kg ha-1). Irrigation increased fertilizer N uptake by Charlie, but had no effect on the amount taken up by SV1, which was attributed to greater N use efficiency of SV1 compared with Charlie when irrigated. Eighty-two percent of the applied fertilizer N was accounted for in the following sinks: 43% in the soil (0–60 cm), 31% in the willow tissues (i.e., stems, leaves, stump, and roots), 7% in the LFH layer, and <1% in the non-crop vegetation; the balance (approximately 18%) was presumed lost primarily through denitrification from the poorly drained soil, but possibly some may have leached below the root zone as well. Although the willow varieties accessed only a portion of the applied fertilizer N during the year of application, the majority of the residual fertilizer N was conserved within the production system and, therefore, remained available for willow uptake in subsequent years.
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Vol. 92 • No. 3