Impact of variable rate nitrogen and reduced irrigation management on nitrate leaching for potato

Brian J. Bohman, Carl J. Rosen, David J. Mulla

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10 Scopus citations


Nitrogen (N) loss from cropping systems has important environmental implications, including contamination of drinking water with nitrate. A 2-yr study evaluated the effects of six N rate, source, and timing treatments, including a variable rate (VR) N treatment based on the N sufficiency index approach using remote sensing, and two irrigation rate treatments, including conventional and reduced rate, on nitrate leaching, residual soil nitrate, and plant N uptake for potato (Solanum tuberosum L. cv. Russet Burbank) production in 2016 and 2017 on a Hubbard loamy sand. Nitrate leaching losses measured with suction-cup lysimeters varied between 2016 and 2017 with flow-weighted mean nitrate N concentrations of 5.6 and 12.8 mg N L−1, respectively, and increased from 7.1 to 10.4 mg N L−1 as N rate increased from 45 to 270 kg N ha−1. Despite reductions in N rate of 22 and 44 kg N ha−1 in 2016 and 2017, respectively, for the VR N treatment, there was no significant difference in nitrate leaching compared with the existing N best management practices (BMPs). Reducing irrigation rate by 15% decreased nitrate leaching load by 17% through a reduction in percolation. Residual soil nitrate N in the top 60 cm across all treatments (7.9 mg N kg−1) suggests a risk for nitrate leaching during the nongrowing season, and plant N uptake did not explain yearly variation in nitrate leaching and residual soil nitrate. Although existing N BMPs are effective at controlling N losses, development of alternative practices is needed to further reduce the risk of groundwater contamination.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)281-291
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Environmental Quality
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 1 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Funding for the project was provided by the Minnesota Area II Potato Growers Research and Promotion Council and Clean Water Land and Legacy Amendment Funding administered through the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 The Authors. Journal of Environmental Quality © 2020 American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America, and Soil Science Society of America

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article


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