Controlled release urea (CRU) has been widely adopted to increase nitrogen (N) use efficiency and maize production, but the impacts can range widely depending on water availability in the soil. In an experiment using Zhengdan 958 (a popular summer maize hybrid), three levels of water treatments (adequate water condition [W3], which maintained soil moisture at about 75% ± 5% of the soil’s field capacity; mild water stress [W2], which maintained moisture content at 55% ± 5% of field capacity; and severe water stress [W1], which had a moisture content of 35% ± 5% of field capacity) and four levels of controlled release urea fertilizer (N0, N1, N2 and N3 were 0, 105, 210 and 315 kg N ha–1, respectively) were compared in a rainout shelter system with soil. The results revealed that CRU had significant effects on maize yields and N use efficiencies under different water conditions. The mean yields increased with increasing water levels and showed significant differences. Under W1, the accumulation of dry matter and N were limited, and N internal efficiency (NIE) and the apparent recovery efficiency of applied N (REN) decreased with N increases; yields of N1, N2, and N3 were similar. Under W2, the dry matter and N accumulation, as well as the yield, showed an increasing trend with an increase in N application, and the NIE and REN of N3 showed no difference from N2. Under W3, yields of N2 and N3 were similar and they were significantly higher than that of N1, but the agronomic N use efficiency (ANUE), REN, and the physiological NUE (PNUE) of N2 were 54.2, 34.9, and 14.4% higher, respectively, than those of N3. N application beyond the optimal N rate did not consistently increase maize yield, and caused a decrease in N use efficiencies. Highest overall dry matter, N accumulation, and yields were observed with N3 under W2, and those showed no differences with N2 and N3 under W3. Under this experimental condition, the CRU of 210 kg ha–1 was optimized when soil moisture content was 75% ± 5% of field capacity, but an N rate of 315 kg ha–1 was superior when soil moisture content during the entire growing season was maintained at 55% ± 5% of field capacity.
Li, G., Zhao, B., Dong, S., Zhang, J., Liu, P., & Vyn, T. J. (2017). Impact of controlled release urea on maize yield and nitrogen use efficiency under different water conditions. PLoS ONE, 12(7). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0181774