Increase in alfalfa (Medicago sativa L.) production for energy (gasification of stems) and protein supplement (from leaves) has been proposed for the upper Midwestern United States, an area where corn (Zea mays L.) in rotation with soybean (Glycine max L.) is the predominant crop sequence. This study was undertaken to assess the impact on runoff and water quality, especially for the loss of oxygen demanding material with snowmelt. Four field size watersheds were instrumented at Morris, Minnesota, USA on a rolling prairie landscape. Snowmelt runoff from each watershed was measured with two flumes with overlapping ranges arranged in series. An automatic water sampler collected runoff samples for chemical analysis. Oxygen demand was used as a surrogate for reduced carbon. Water samples were analyzed for total solids, biochemical oxygen demand (BOD), and chemical oxygen demand (COD). Based on the results of snowmelt events of 1997, 1998, and 1999, the alfalfa fields yielded more runoff than corn-soybean fields. The loss of total solids was more consistent from alfalfa fields. Total solids losses interacted with crop and year. Compared to alfalfa fields losses were less following soybeans and greater following corn. On average losses were similar between alfalfa and corn-soybean fields. Runoff from alfalfa fields contained about four times more BOD than corn-soybean fields. Although not statistically significant due to only two replications, there was a similar trend for COD. This study shows that although losses of total solids in snowmelt from alfalfa fields was similar to corn-soybean fields, there can be increased losses of oxygen demanding materials.
- Oxygen demand
- Surface runoff