Breeding for Tolerance to Low Soil Nitrogen
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Nitrogen (N) is the most important of the three primary nutrients required for good growth and productivity of the maize plant. Generally, farmers in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) apply little or no inorganic fertilizer to their maize crop due to nonavailability and/or financial constraints. Inherent soil nutrient is low due to soil structure and texture, heavy, rapid leaching, continuous cultivation of the land, grazing, and/or removal of crop residue to feed livestock. One way out is to develop low-N tolerant varieties for farmers in the region. Therefore, selection under low N has become an important strategy of the IITA maize improvement program for developing low-N tolerant cultivars. For the early and extra-early germplasm, screening for tolerance to low N involves the exposure of the genetic materials to two levels of N fertilizer, 30 and 90 kg N ha−1. Two sites known from soil tests to have been depleted of inherent soil N are used for low-N screening: Ile-Ife in the forest agroecology and Mokwa in Sudan and Guinea savanna (SGS). In addition, Mokwa and Abuja which are the Striga screening sites also serve as indirect screening sites for low N because only 30 kg N ha−1 is applied to the Striga-infested plots, while the non-infested plots that receive optimal recommended N rate (90 kg N ha−1) serve as the control. Several studies have been conducted to determine the most appropriate traits to use as selection criteria for low-N tolerance, its genetics and response to direct and indirect selection, the genotype by N interaction, association of low-N tolerance with tolerance/resistance to other stresses, and performance of low-N varieties in farmers’ fields.
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