, Volume 47, Issue 3, pp 197-212

Nitrogen losses and fertilizer N use efficiency in irrigated porous soils

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Abstract

Porous soils are characterized by high infiltration, low moisture retention and poor fertility due to limitation of organic matter and nitrogen (N). However, wherever irrigated and properly managed, these are among the most productive soils in the world. For sustained productivity and prevention of N related pollution problems, fertilizer N management in porous soils needs to be improved by reducing losses of N via different mechanisms. Losses of N through ammonia volatilization are not favoured in porous soils provided fertilizer N is applied before an irrigation or rainfall event. Ammonium N transported to depth along with percolating water cannot move back to soil surface where it is prone to be lost as NH3. Under upland conditions nitrification proceeds rapidly in porous soils. Due to high water percolation rates in porous soils, continuous flooding for rice production usually cannot be maintained and alternate flood and drained conditions are created. Nitrification proceeds rapidly during drained conditions and nitrates thus produced are subsequently reduced to N2 and N2O through denitrification upon reflooding. Indirect N-budget estimates show that up to 50% of the applied N may be lost via nitrification-denitrification in irrigated porous soils under wetland rice.

High soil nitrate N levels and sufficient downward movement of rain water to move nitrate N below the rooting depth are often encountered in soils of humid and subhumid zones, to a lesser extent in soils of semiarid zone and quite infrequently, if at all in arid zone soils. The few investigations carried out with irrigated porous soils do not show substantial leaching losses of N beyond potential rooting zone even under wetland rice. However, inefficient management of irrigation water and fertilizer N particularly with shallow rooted crops may lead to pollution of groundwater due to nitrate leaching. At a number of locations, groundwater beneath irrigated porous soils is showing increased nitrate N concentrations. Efficient management of N for any cropping system in irrigated porous soils can be achieved by plugging losses of N via different mechanisms leading to both high crop production and minimal pollution of the environment.