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Effect of Drainage Water Management on Nitrate Nitrogen Loss to Tile Drains in North Carolina

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

Citation:  Transactions of the ASABE. 61(1): 233-244. (doi: 10.13031/trans.12296) @2018
Authors:   Chad A. Poole, R. Wayne Skaggs, Mohamed A. Youssef, George M. Chescheir, Carl R. Crozier
Keywords:   Controlled drainage (CD), Corn, Drainage water, Drainage water management (DWM), Nitrate, Nitrogen, Soybean, Water quality, Wheat.

Abstract. Short-term studies have demonstrated that drainage water management (DWM), or controlled drainage (CD), can be used to substantially reduce the loss of nitrogen (N) from drained lands for a wide range of soils, crops, locations, and climates. Long-term studies on the effects of the practice are limited. This article presents results on the effects of CD on nitrate-N (NO3-N) losses for three crops, corn ( L.), wheat ( L.), and soybean ( [L.] Merr.), in a two-year rotation in North Carolina. Nitrate losses were measured on replicated plots under CD and conventional, or free drainage (FD), treatments for nine years between 1992 and 2012 on a tile-drained site near Plymouth, North Carolina. The site is on a Portsmouth sandy loam soil with parallel drains 22.9 m apart and 1.15 m deep. The subsurface drainage characteristics under FD were drainage intensity (DI) = 8 mm d-1, drainage coefficient (DC) = 14 mm d-1, and Kirkham coefficient (KC) = 18 mm d-1. Compared to FD, CD reduced annual drainage outflow by 33% and NO3-N export by 30%, with an average annual reduction of 6.3 kg ha-1 year-1. CD increased average NO3-N concentrations by 0.9 mg L-1, but the difference was not significant. The reduction in NO3-N export observed in the CD treatment was equal to the increase in N removed by the harvested grain. The results document the effects of CD on NO3-N export over a wide range of weather conditions during the nine-year study. While the average 30% reduction in NO3-N losses in drainage water is in the midrange of that reported by previous studies for different soils and climates, this is believed to be the first time such a reduction has been attributed to the effect of CD on increasing yields and N removed in the harvested grain.

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