, Volume 269, Issue 1-2, pp 297-308

A methodology for measuring drainage and nitrate leaching in unevenly irrigated vegetable crops

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Abstract

The objective of our study was to establish a methodology to determine drainage and nitrate leaching in unevenly irrigated vegetable crops. It was conducted in a tomato crop (Lycopersicum esculentum Mill) with drip irrigation in the summer of 2000 in the Ebro Valley, Spain. Two soil management techniques and two irrigation treatments were evaluated bare soil (S1) and soil mulched with black plastic (S2), with irrigation calculated according to the Crop Evapotranspiration (ETc) for bare soil (R1) and for mulched soil (R2). Volumetric soil water content (θv) was measured weekly to 1 m depth in six positions transverse to the drip line. Drainage was calculated by applying the water balance equation to the data from: (i) all six positions (method 1) and (ii) to the positions located under the plants and between the rows, respectively (method 2). Soil solution was extracted at 1 m depth with porous ceramic cups and analysed for nitrate. Nitrate leached to 1 m depth was calculated as the product of volume of drainage accumulated weekly and the nitrate concentration of the soil solution. Drainage and nitrate leaching were evaluated for two different crop periods crop establishment and crop growth. Method 2 produced results that were not significantly different from those from method 1. However, method 1 was more accurate and identified more differences between treatments. The greater drainage occurred during the crop establishment period, which also favoured the leaching of nitrates previously stored in the soil profile and later applied as fertilizer before planting. During establishment the crop was unable to use all available nitrate and the quality of groundwater deteriorated. The results suggest that further studies are required to adjust crop coefficients (Kc) to the actual needs of tomato crops grown with drip irrigation under bare soil and plastic mulching conditions.