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Journal of Environmental Quality Abstract - Surface Water Quality

Irrigated Mountain Meadow Fertilizer Application Timing Effects on Overland Flow Water Quality


This article in JEQ

  1. Vol. 32 No. 5, p. 1802-1808

    * Corresponding author(s): jbrummer@lamar.colostate.edu
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  1. Shawn K. Whitea,
  2. Joe E. Brummer *b,
  3. Wayne C. Leiningera,
  4. Gary W. Frasierc,
  5. Reagan M. Waskomd and
  6. Troy A. Bauderd
  1. a Department of Rangeland Ecosystem Science, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO 80523
    b Colorado State University Mountain Meadow Research Center, P.O. Box 598, Gunnison, CO 81230
    c USDA Agricultural Research Service, Rangeland Resources Research Unit, Fort Collins, CO 80526
    d Department of Soil and Crop Sciences, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO 80523


Nonpoint-source pollution from agricultural activities is currently the leading cause of degradation of waterways in the United States. Applying best management practices to flood-irrigated mountain meadows may improve agricultural runoff and return flow water quality. Prior research has focused on fertilizer use for increased hay yields, while few studies have investigated the environmental implications of this practice. We examined the effects of fertilizer application timing on overland flow water quality from an irrigated mountain meadow near Gunnison, Colorado. Application of 40 kg phosphorus (P) and 19 kg nitrogen (N) ha−1 using monoammonium phosphate (11–52–0, N–P–K) fertilizer to plots in the fall significantly reduced concentrations of reactive P and ammonium N in irrigation overland flow compared with early or late spring fertilization. Reactive P loading was 9 to almost 16 times greater when fertilizer was applied in the early or late spring, respectively, compared with in the fall. Ammonium N followed a similar trend with early spring loading more than 18 times greater and late spring loading more than 34 times greater than loads from fall-fertilized plots. Losses of 45% of the applied P and more than 17% of the N were measured in runoff when fertilizer was applied in the late spring. These results, coupled with those from previous studies, suggest that mountain meadow hay producers should apply fertilizer in the fall, especially P-based fertilizers, to improve hay yields, avoid economic losses from loss of applied fertilizers, and reduce the potential for impacts to water quality.

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