Water quality modeling of fertilizer management impacts on nitrate losses in tile drains at the field scale

V. Nangia, P. H. Gowda, D. J. Mulla, G. R. Sands

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

48 Scopus citations


Nitrate losses from subsurface tile drained row cropland in the Upper Midwest U.S. contribute to hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico. Strategies are needed to reduce nitrate losses to the Mississippi River. This paper evaluates the effect of fertilizer rate and timing on nitrate losses in two (East and West) commercial row crop fields located in south-central Minnesota. The Agricultural Drainage and Pesticide Transport (ADAPT) model was calibrated and validated for monthly subsurface tile drain flow and nitrate losses for a period of 1999-2003. Good agreement was found between observed and predicted tile drain flow and nitrate losses during the calibration period, with Nash-Sutcliffe modeling efficiencies of 0.75 and 0.56, respectively. Better agreements were observed for the validation period. The calibrated model was then used to evaluate the effects of rate and timing of fertilizer application on nitrate losses with a 50-yr climatic record (1954-2003). Significant reductions in nitrate losses were predicted by reducing fertilizer application rates and changing timing. A 13% reduction in nitrate losses was predicted when fall fertilizer application rate was reduced from 180 to 123 kg/ha. A further 9% reduction in nitrate losses can be achieved when switching from fall to spring application. Larger reductions in nitrate losses would require changes in fertilizer rate and timing, as well as other practices such as changing tile drain spacings and/or depths, fall cover cropping, or conversion of crop land to pasture.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)296-307
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Environmental Quality
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2008


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