Two field experiments were conducted to assess the effectiveness of polymer-coated urea (PCU) vs. conventional urea (urea) in minimizing nitrate accumulation in soil and nitrous oxide (N 2 O) emission while optimizing available N supply. The trials were located on Dark Gray Luvisols (Typic Cryoboralf) near Beaverlodge, Alberta (2004–2007) and Star City, Saskatchewan (2004–2006), in the north western Canadian Prairies. The treatments comprised of combinations of two tillage systems (conventional and no tillage), the two forms of urea (applied at commercial rates, 50–60 kg N ha −1 ), and time of application (side-banded in spring or fall). Tillage had little effect on the measured soil variables. Available N at the anthesis growth stage was higher with spring- than fall-banded N in three of four site-years, and with PCU than urea in two site-years. At seeding, nitrate in the soil layers to 60-cm depth, especially the top 15 cm, was mostly higher for fall- than spring-banded treatments but differed less between the forms of urea. Fall application, therefore, has greater potential for gaseous N and leaching losses early in the growing season when crops have low N requirements, and hence is not advisable. Nitrous oxide emission from spring to fall was higher with the fertilized treatments in three of five site-years and not different between fertilized and unfertilized treatments in the other site-years. At Beaverlodge, N 2 O loss was low in 2 years and showed few significant treatment effects. At Star City, N 2 O loss was 1.5- to 1.7-fold higher from urea than PCU treatments, and up to 1.5-fold lower from spring than fall application. It is concluded that although PCU can increase available N during the growth period and reduce N 2 O loss in some years compared with urea, the time of N application had a consistently greater effect than the type of urea in enhancing crop N recovery and reducing N loss to the environment.
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