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Soil Science Society of America Journal Abstract -

Influence of Tillage on Nitrate Loss in Surface Runoff and Tile Drainage


This article in SSSAJ

  1. Vol. 57 No. 3, p. 797-802
    Received: July 13, 1992

    * Corresponding author(s):
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  1. C. F. Drury ,
  2. W. I. Findlay,
  3. J. D. Gaynor and
  4. D. J. McKenney
  1. Research Station, Agriculture Canada, Harrow, ON, Canada NOR 1G0
    Dep. of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Univ. of Windsor, Windsor, ON, Canada N9B 3P4



A study was conducted to determine the effect of conservation (notillage and ridge tillage) and conventional (moldboard plow) tillage systems on NO3 loss through surface runoff and tile drainage. Nitrate concentrations and total volume of surface runoff and tile drainage from conventional tillage (CT), no-tillage (NT), and ridge tillage (RT) all planted in continuous corn (Zea mays L.), and Kentucky bluegrass (BG, Poa pratensis L.) treatments, were measured for 3 yr, 1989 to 1991. All corn tillage treatments received a total of 178.6 kg N ha−1 annually during the growing season. The volume of water drained through the tiles in the corn tillage systems always exceeded the volume in surface runoff, typically by factors of 2 to 4. Tile drainage was greatest from the CT treatments, least from BG, and approximately equal from RT and NT treatments in 1989 and 1990. Concentrations of NO3 in tile water from CT, RT, and NT treatments exceeded the maximum recommended safe limit for drinking water (10 mg N L−1) in 79% of the leaching events, with flow-weighted concentrations between 12 and 17 mg N L−1 in 1989 and 1990. Flow-weighted NO3 concentrations were only 1.2 and 2.6 mg N L−1 from BG in 1989 and 1990, respectively. The total NO3 lost in tile water in 1989 was 18, 14, 14, and 1 kg N ha−1 from the CT, RT, NT, and BG treatments, respectively, whereas in 1990 there were 29, 20, 20, and 3 kg N ha−1 lost from the CT, RT, NT, and BG treatments, respectively. Nitrate losses in surface runoff were lower than in tile drainage, with maximums of 2.6 kg N ha−1 for the RT and NT treatments in 1989 and 5.5 kg N ha−1 for the RT treatment in 1990. In 1989 and 1990, both RT and NT treatments had greater yields and N uptake in grain than the CT treatment. A serious drought in 1991 limited corn yield, N uptake in grain, and NO3 loss.

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