Accurate measurement of crop growth and radiation use efficiency (RUE) under optimal growth conditions is required to predict plant dry matter accumulation and grain yield near the genetic growth potential. Research was conducted to quantify the biomass and leaf area index (LAI) accumulation, extinction coefficient, and RUE of maize (Zea mays L.) under conditions of optimal growth. Maize was grown in two environments over five growing seasons (1998–2002). Total aboveground biomass at maturity ranged from 2257 g m-2 in 1998 to 2916 g m-2 in 2001; values that are considerably greater than the biomass achieved in most previous studies on RUE in maize. Peak LAI ranged from 4.8 to 7.8. Maize extinction coefficients during vegetative growth (k) were within the range of recently published values (0.49 ± 0.03), with no clear pattern of differences in k among years. Seasonal changes in interception of photosynthetically active radiation (PAR) were similar across all but one year. Estimates of RUE were obtained using the short-interval crop growth rate method and the cumulative biomass and absorbed PAR (APAR) method. Values of RUE obtained using the two methods were 3.74 (±0.20) g MJ-1 APAR and 3.84 (±0.08) g MJ-1 APAR, respectively, and did not vary among years. This compares to a published mean RUE for maize of 3.3 g MJ-1 of intercepted PAR (Mitchell et al., 1998). Moreover, RUE did not decline during grain filling. Differences in biomass accumulation among years were attributed in part to differences in observed radiation interception, which varied primarily due to differences in LAI. Maize simulation models that rely on RUE for biomass accumulation should use an RUE of 3.8 g MJ-1 APAR for predicting optimum yields without growth limitations.
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