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Journal of Environmental Quality Abstract -

Lysimeter Study of Nitrate Leaching from a Corn-Soybean Rotation


This article in JEQ

  1. Vol. 29 No. 2, p. 467-474
    Received: Nov 10, 1998

    * Corresponding author(s): lowens@coshocton.com
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  1. L. B. Owens *,
  2. R. W. Malone,
  3. M. J. Shipitalo,
  4. W. M. Edwards and
  5. J. V. Bonta
  1. USDA-ARS, North Appalachian Experimental Watershed, P.O. Box 488, Coshocton, OH 43812.



High rates of N fertilizer in the production of continuous corn (Zea mays L.) have resulted in excessive nitrate N (NO3-N) leaching, with concentrations in ground water frequently exceeding the maximum contaminant level (MCL) of 10 mg/L. This study was conducted to determine whether NO3-N leaching would be reduced by allowing for a legume N credit for soybean [Glycine max (L.) Merr.], and applying less N fertilizer to corn in a corn-soybean rotation than would be applied to continuous corn. A rye (Secale cereale L.) winter cover crop was used following soybean. In the spring of each corn year, 140 kg N/ha as NH4NO3 was surface applied to two large, undisturbed monolith lysimeters (8.1 m2 surface area, 2.4 m deep), and 196 kg N/ha was applied to two other lysimeters. Prior to 6 yr of this treatment, there was a 6 yr period during which lysimeters received 224 kg N/ha in the spring of the corn year. The highest NO3-N concentrations and the most transport occurred during the winter/spring soil moisture recharge period (November through April). Concentrations of NO3-N in the percolate from all four lysimeters were similar, with a 6-yr, flow-weighted average of 9.9 ± 2.5 mg/L. Although reducing N fertilizer inputs in a corn-soybean rotation to allow for a legume N credit may lower N leaching amounts and concentrations, the NO3-N MCL may still be exceeded. For a given year, weather can impact percolation and leaching more than the current crop.

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