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Journal of Environmental Quality Abstract -

Nitrate Losses through Subsurface Tile Drainage in Conservation Reserve Program, Alfalfa, and Row Crop Systems


This article in JEQ

  1. Vol. 26 No. 5, p. 1240-1247
    Received: Oct 11, 1996

    * Corresponding author(s): grandall@soils.umn.edu
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  1. G. W. Randall *,
  2. D. R. Huggins,
  3. M. P. Russelle,
  4. D. J. Fuchs,
  5. W. W. Nelson and
  6. J. L. Anderson
  1. Southern Experiment Station, Waseca, MN 56093;
    Southwest Experiment Station, Lamberton, MN 56152;
    Plant Science Research Unit, USDA-ARS - U. S. Dairy Forage Research Center, St. Paul, MN 55108;
    Dep. of Soil, Water, and Climate, Univ. of Minnesota, St. Paul, MN 55108.



Subsurface drainage of gravitational water from the soil profile through tiles is a common practice used to improve crop production on poorly drained soils. Previous research has often shown significant concentrations of nitrate-N (NO3-N) in drainage water from row-crop systems, but little drainage research has been conducted under perennial crops such as those used in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). Four cropping systems (continuous corn, a corn-soybean rotation, alfalfa, and CRP) were established in 1988 to determine aboveground biomass yields, N uptake, residual soil N (RSN), soil water content, and NO3 losses to subsurface tile drainage water as influenced by cropping system. Hydrologic-year rainfall during the 6-yr study ranged from 23% below normal to 66% above normal. In dry years, yields were limited, RSN accumulated at elevated levels in all crop systems but especially in the row-crop systems, soil water reserves and RSN were reduced to as deep as 2.7 m in the alfalfa (Medicago sativa L.) and CRP systems, and tile drainage did not occur. Drainage occurred only in the corn (Zea mays L.) and soybean [Glycine max (L.) Merr.] systems in the year of normal rainfall. In years of excess precipitation, drainage from the row-crop systems exceeded that from the perennial crops by 1.1 to 5.3X. Flow-weighted average NO3-N concentrations in the water during the flow period of this study were continuous corn = 32, corn-soybean rotation = 24, alfalfa = 3 and CRP = 2 mg/L. Nitrate losses in the subsurface drainage water from the continuous corn and corn-soybean systems were about 37X and 35X higher, respectively, than from the alfalfa and CRP systems due primarily to greater season-long ET resulting in less drainage and greater uptake and/or immobilization of N by the perennial crops.

Contribution from the Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station Scientific J. Series Paper no. 22594.

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