Nitrogen (N) fertilization is critical for crop growth; however, its effect on crop growth and evapotranspiration (ETc) behaviors under different amounts of rainfall is not well understood. As such, there is a need for studying the impact of nitrogen application rates and rainfall amounts on crop growth and ETc components. Agricultural system models help to fill this knowledge gap, e.g., the Root Zone Water Quality Model (RZWQM2), which integrates crop growth-related processes. The objective of this study is to investigate the effect of the nitrogen application rate on crop growth, soil water dynamics, and ETc behavior under different rainfall amounts by using experimental data and the RZWQM2. A field study was conducted from 2016 to 2019 with three nitrogen application rates (0, 70, and 130 kg N ha−1) for unirrigated winter wheat (Triticum aestivum L.), and two nitrogen application rates (0 and 205 kg N ha−1) for unirrigated corn (Zea mays L.). For the period of 1986–2019, the amounts of actual rainfall during each crop growth period are categorized into four groups. Each rainfall group is used as a rainfall scenario in the RZWQM2 to explore the interactions between the rainfall amounts and N levels on the resulting crop growth and water status. The results show that the model satisfactorily captures the interaction effects of nitrogen application rates and rainfall amounts on the daily ETc and soil water dynamics. The nitrogen application rate showed a noticeable impact on the behavior of soil water dynamics and ETc components. The 75% rainfall scenario yielded the highest nitrogen uptake for both crops. This scenario revealed the highest water consumption for wheat, while corn showed the highest water uptake for the 100% rainfall scenario. The interaction between a high nitrogen level and 50% rainfall yielded the highest water use efficiency, while low nitrogen and 125% rainfall yielded the highest nitrogen use efficiency. A zero nitrogen rate yielded the highest ETc and lowest soil water content among all treatments. Moreover, the impacts of the nitrogen application rate on ETc behavior, crop growth, and soil water dynamics differed depending on the received rainfall amount.

Document Type


Publication Date


Notes/Citation Information

Published in Water, v. 13, issue 16, 2219.

© 2021 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland.

This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/).

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)