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This article in AJ

  1. Vol. 93 No. 3, p. 477-486
    Received: Mar 20, 2000

    * Corresponding author(s): dhuggins@wsu.edu
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Subsurface Drain Losses of Water and Nitrate following Conversion of Perennials to Row Crops

  1. David R. Huggins *a,
  2. Gyles W. Randallb and
  3. Michael P. Russellec
  1. a USDA-ARS, Land Management and Water Conserv. Res. Unit, 215 Johnson Hall, Washington State Univ., Pullman, WA 99164-6421
    b Univ. of Minnesota Southern Res. and Outreach Center, Waseca, MN 56093
    c Plant Science Res. Unit, USDA-ARS, U.S. Dairy Forage Research Center, St. Paul, MN 55108-6028


Nitrate losses through subsurface drains in agricultural fields pose a serious threat to surface water quality. Substantial reductions in drainage losses of NO3–N can occur with alfalfa (Medicago sativa L.) or perennial grasses as used in Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) plantings. Conversion of perennials to annual row crops, however, could have rapid, adverse affects on water quality. We evaluated water and N use efficiency of row crops following perennials, and losses of water and NO3–N to subsurface drains. Four cropping systems: continuous corn (Zea mays L.), a corn–soybean [Glycine max (L.) Merr.] rotation, alfalfa (ALF), and CRP, were established in 1988. The ALF and CRP were converted to a corn–corn–soybean sequence from 1994 through 1996 while continuous corn (C-C) and corn–soybean (C-S) rotations were maintained. Following CRP, corn yield was 14% and water use efficiency (WUE) 20% greater as compared with C-C. Yield was 19% and WUE 21% greater for soybean following corn in CRP and ALF as compared with C-S. Residual soil NO3–N (RSN) increased 125% in first year corn following CRP and was 32% greater than C-C by 1996. High N uptake efficiencies of corn following alfalfa slowed the buildup of RSN, but levels were equal to row crop systems after 2 yr. Nitrate losses in drainage water remained low during the initial year of conversion, but were similar to row crop systems during the subsequent 2 yr. Beneficial effects of perennials on subsurface drainage characteristics were largely negated following 1 to 2 yr of corn.

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Copyright © 2001. American Society of AgronomyPublished in Agron. J.93:477–486.