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Journal of Environmental Quality Abstract -

Managing Farming Systems for Nitrate Control


This article in JEQ

  1. Vol. 30 No. 6, p. 1866-1880
    Received: June 2, 2000

    * Corresponding author(s): dw53434@alltel.net
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  1. J.F. Powera,
  2. Richard Wiese *b and
  3. Dale Flowerdayc
  1. a Research Soil Scientist, USDA-ARS (retired)
    b Professor (retired), Dep. of Agronomy, Univ. of Nebraska, Lincoln, NE 68583
    c Agronomist, Pioneer International, (retired)


The U.S. Department of Agriculture funded the Management Systems Evaluation Area (MSEA) research project in 1990 to evaluate effectiveness of present farming systems in controlling nitrate N in water resources and to develop improved technologies for farming systems. This paper summarizes published research results of a five-year effort. Most research is focused on evaluating the effectiveness of farming system components (fertilizer, tillage, water control, cropping systems, and soil and weather variability). The research results show that current soil nitrate tests reliably predict fertilizer N needed to control environmental and economic risks for crop production. A corn (Zea mays L.)–soybean [Glycine max (L.) Merr.] rotation usually controls risk better than continuous corn, but both may result in unacceptable nitrate leaching. Reduced tillage, especially ridge-till, is better than clean tillage in reducing risk. Tile drainage controls nitrate in ground water, but discharge may increase nitrate in surface waters. Sprinkler irrigation systems provide better water control than furrow irrigation because quantity and spatial variability of applied water is reduced. Present farming systems have two major deficiencies: (i) entire fields are managed uniformly, ignoring inherent soil variability within a field; and (ii) N fertilizer rates and many field practices are selected assuming normal weather for the coming season. Both deficiencies can contribute to nitrate leaching in parts of most fields.

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Copyright © 2001. American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America, Soil Science SocietyPublished in J. Environ. Qual.30:1866–1880.