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Dissolved Nitrogen, Chloride, and Potassium Loss from Fields in Conventional and Conservation Tillage

Published by the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers, St. Joseph, Michigan

Citation:  Transactions of the ASABE. 58(6): 1559-1571. (doi: 10.13031/trans.58.11223) @2015
Authors:   David D. Bosch, Thomas L. Potter, Timothy C. Strickland, Robert K. Hubbard
Keywords:   Agricultural runoff, Conservation tillage, Infiltration, Water quality.

Abstract. Losses of soluble nutrients from cropland and their transport to surface and groundwater are a continuing water quality concern. In this study, we evaluated tillage impacts on dissolved losses of ammonium (NH4-N), nitrate nitrogen (NO3-N), chloride (Cl), and potassium (K) during rotational cotton and peanut production. Tillage treatments were strip tillage (ST), in which crops were planted into 15 cm strips tilled into cover crop residue mulch, and conventional tillage (CT), in which all crop residues were turned into the soil prior to planting. Winter cover crops were used in both tillage systems. Tillage and irrigation treatments were uniformly applied within two 0.6 ha fields located on a moderately sloping hillslope in the southern Atlantic Coastal Plain region of south-central Georgia. Tile drains were installed at the base of the slope of each field to capture and measure lateral subsurface flow. Each field was subdivided into three 0.2 ha plots, with the three plots making up a single tillage block. H-flumes were used for flow measurement and sample collection. During the five-year study, annual precipitation ranged from 910 to 1488 mm, with an annual average of 1201 mm. Annual surface runoff averaged 17% of annual rainfall from the CT field and 11% from the ST field. Because of relatively low variability in concentrations, surface runoff loads closely tracked surface runoff volumes. Annual surface runoff loadings of NH4-N, NO3-N, and Cl from the ST treatment were found to be significantly less than those from the CT treatment. The total five-year load of N (NH4-N and NO3-N) in surface runoff from CT was 8.3 kg ha-1, while it was 5.6 kg ha-1 from ST, equivalent to 1.5% of the total N applied to CT and 1.0% of that applied to ST. Annual subsurface flow averaged 12% of annual precipitation for CT and 21% for ST. Annual average subsurface flow loadings of NH4-N, NO3-N, and K from ST were significantly greater than from CT. The total five-year load of N (NH4-N and NO3-N) in subsurface flow was 45 kg ha-1 from CT and 99 kg ha-1 from ST, equivalent to 8.3% and 18.4% of the total N applied to CT and ST, respectively. Data showed that subsurface flow was the primary hydrologic pathway for dissolved N and Cl loss in both tillage systems. Overall, ST was found to be an effective method for reducing surface runoff and associated soluble losses, but increased infiltration with this practice significantly increased subsurface losses. This introduces a challenge to nitrogen management in reduced tillage systems such as ST in the region.

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