Masters Theses

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science


Biosystems Engineering Technology

Major Professor

Brian Leib

Committee Members

Hugh Savoy, Paul Denton, John Tyner


Nitrogen fertilization is important in attaining high yielding, quality tobacco. However, practices that use excessive N can be uneconomical, threaten the environment and produce leaves that are high in nitrates. Leaves high in nitrates have been positively correlated with leaves that are high in tobacco specific nitrosamines (TSNA), which are considered potent carcinogens. Competition from cheaper, foreign leaf, increasing costs of fertilizers and new market structures which show purchasers seeking low TSNA leaf demand that producers become more efficient in their N use. The objective of this study is an examination of burley (TN 90) and dark (KY 171) tobacco cultural practices with the hypothesis that optimizing growing conditions will enhance N efficiency.

This experiment took place during 2005 and 2006 in the traditional tobacco growing regions of Springfield (Dickson silt loam) and Greeneville, TN (Lindside silt loam). Experimental isolated growing condition variables. Irrigation treatments isolate the importance of soil moisture. Fertigation, while using irrigation practices, isolates the effects of synchronizing crop N demand with N supply. Plasticulture, using fertigation protocol, isolates the importance of soil temperature. Season long measurements of soilwater tension, soil temperature and leaf nitrates were used to evaluate the ability of each practice to keep plants in optimal N uptake and utilization growing conditions.

Results showed that the most dramatic and consistent treatment effects were found in the TSNA analysis. Even during a season characterized by precipitation being sufficient in volume and timing to meet plant water demands, irrigation was successfully able to decrease TSNA concentration by about 30%. During drier growing seasons, TSNA was reduced by 50% or more. Measurements of leaf nitrates taken with a Horiba monitor were able to consistently detect treatment and N rate differences. The last sample taken around eight weeks after transplanting correlated strongly with TSNA content (0.81). This tool could prove effective in characterizing optimal N management.

Cultural practices that offer control over soil water tension, nitrate content in leaves and soil temperatures can be effective in increasing the ability of the plant to uptake and utilize N towards achieving high yielding, high GRI quality and low TSNA leaf.

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