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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Research Project: REDUCING NITRATE LOSSES FROM AGRICULTURAL FIELDS WITH SUBSURFACE DRAINAGE Title: Winter Cover Crop Effects on Nitrate Leaching in Subsurface Drainage as Simulated by RZWQM-DSSAT

Authors
item Li, Longhui - CHINESE ACAD OF SCI,CHINA
item Malone, Robert
item Ma, Liwang
item Kaspar, Thomas
item Jaynes, Dan
item Saseendran, S - CO STATE UNIVERSITY
item Thorp, Kelly
item Yu, Qiang - CHINESE ACAD OF SCI,CHINA
item Ahuja, Lajpat

Submitted to: Transactions of the ASABE
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: September 10, 2008
Publication Date: October 2, 2008
Citation: Li, L., Malone, R.W., Ma, L., Kaspar, T.C., Jaynes, D.B., Saseendran, S.A., Thorp, K.R., Yu, Q., Ahuja, L.R. 2008. Winter Cover Crop Effects on Nitrate Leaching in Subsurface Drainage as Simulated by RZWQM-DSSAT. Transactions of the ASABE. 51:1575-1583.

Interpretive Summary: Planting winter cover crops such as winter rye after corn and soybean harvest is one of the more promising practices to reduce nitrate loss to streams from subsurface (tile) drainage systems. Because use of cover crops to reduce nitrate loss has only been tested over a few years with limited environmental and management conditions, estimating the impacts of cover crops under the range of expected conditions is difficult. Models may help estimate the effects of different agricultural management practices such as winter cover crops in conjunction with different nitrogen (N) fertilizer application rates. In this study, a winter wheat cover crop growth component was integrated into an agricultural systems model and the developed mode is compared to field data. The nitrate concentrations in subsurface drainage in the cover crop plots were reduced 59% from plots without cover crops and the model simulated a 49% reduction. The results suggest the model we developed is a promising tool to estimate the relative effects of a winter crop under different conditions on nitrate loss in subsurface drains and that a winter wheat cover crop can effectively reduce nitrate losses over a range of N fertilizer levels. This research will help model developers, model users, and agricultural scientists more accurately estimate the benefit of winter cover crops for improving water quality in tile drained agricultural areas.

Technical Abstract: Planting winter cover crops such as winter rye after corn and soybean harvest is one of the more promising practices to reduce nitrate loss to streams from tile drainage systems. Because use of cover crops to reduce nitrate loss has only been tested over a few years with limited environmental and management conditions, estimating the impacts of cover crops under the range of expected conditions is difficult. Models may help objectively estimate the relative effects of different agronomic practices (e.g., various N fertilizer application rates in conjunction with winter cover crops). In this study, an optimized winter wheat cover crop growth component was integrated into the calibrated RZWQM-DSSAT hybrid model and then we compare the observed and simulated effects of a winter cover crop on nitrate leaching losses in subsurface drainage water for a corn-soybean rotation with N fertilizer application rates over 225 kg N ha-1 in corn years. Annual observed and simulated flow-weighted average nitrate concentration (FWANC) in drainage from 2002 to 2005 for the cover crop treatments (CC) were 8.7 and 9.3 mg L-1 compared to 21.3 and 18.2 mg L-1 for no cover crop (CON). The resulting observed and simulated FWANC reductions due to CC were 59% and 49%. Simulations with the optimized model at various N fertilizer rates resulted in average annual drainage N loss differences between CC and CON to increase exponentially from 12 to 34 kg N/ha for rates of 11 to 261 kg N/ha. The results suggest that RZWQM-DSSAT is a promising tool to estimate the relative effects of a winter crop under different conditions on nitrate loss in tile drains and that a winter wheat cover crop can effectively reduce nitrate losses over a range of N fertilizer levels.

Last Modified: 7/24/2014
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