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Journal of Environmental Quality Abstract - Plant and Environment Interactions

Subsurface Drainage Nitrate and Total Reactive Phosphorus Losses in Bioenergy-Based Prairies and Corn Systems


This article in JEQ

  1. Vol. 44 No. 5, p. 1638-1646
    Received: Feb 05, 2015
    Accepted: June 09, 2015
    Published: September 16, 2015

    * Corresponding author(s): aaron.daigh@ndsu.edu
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  1. Aaron L. M. Daigh *a,
  2. Xiaobo Zhoub,
  3. Matthew J. Helmersc,
  4. Carl H. Pedersonb,
  5. Robert Hortond,
  6. Meghann Jarchowe and
  7. Matt Liebmanf
  1. a Dep. of Soil Science, 147 Walster Hall, North Dakota State Univ., Fargo, ND 58108
    b Dep. of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering, 3321 Elings Hall, Iowa State Univ., Ames, IA 50011
    c Dep. of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering, 4354 Elings Hall, Iowa State Univ., Ames, IA 50011
    d Dep. of Agronomy, 2543 Agronomy Hall, Iowa State Univ., Ames, IA 50011
    e Dep. of Biology, Churchill-Haines Labs 171E, Univ. of South Dakota, Vermillion, SD 57069
    f Dep. of Agronomy, 1401 Agronomy Hall, Iowa State Univ., Ames, IA 50011
Core Ideas:
  • Bioenergy prairies limited NO3–N losses in subsurface drainage even when N fertilizer was applied.
  • Bioenergy continuous corn with cover crop can supply feedstocks while minimizing NO3–N losses.
  • Drainage TRP concentrations in bioenergy systems need evaluation in areas with high P losses.


We compare subsurface-drainage NO3–N and total reactive phosphorus (TRP) concentrations and yields of select bioenergy cropping systems and their rotational phases. Cropping systems evaluated were grain-harvested corn–soybean rotations, grain- and stover-harvested continuous corn systems with and without a cover crop, and annually harvested reconstructed prairies with and without the addition of N fertilizer in an Iowa field. Drainage was monitored when soils were unfrozen during 2010 through 2013. The corn–soybean rotations without residue removal and continuous corn with residue removal produced similar mean annual flow-weighted NO3–N concentrations, ranging from 6 to 18.5 mg N L−1 during the 4-yr study. In contrast, continuous corn with residue removal and with a cover crop had significantly lower NO3–N concentrations of 5.6 mg N L−1 when mean annual flow-weighted values were averaged across the 4 yr. Prairies systems with or without N fertilization produced significantly lower concentrations below <1 mg NO3–N L−1 than all the row crop systems throughout the study. Mean annual flow-weighted TRP concentrations and annual yields were generally low, with values <0.04 mg TRP L−1 and <0.14 kg TRP ha−1, and were not significantly affected by any cropping systems or their rotational phases. Bioenergy-based prairies with or without N fertilization and continuous corn with stover removal and a cover crop have the potential to supply bioenergy feedstocks while minimizing NO3–N losses to drainage waters. However, subsurface drainage TRP concentrations and yields in bioenergy systems will need further evaluation in areas prone to higher levels of P losses.

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Copyright © 2015. Copyright © by the American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America, and Soil Science Society of America, Inc.