Nutrient Cycling in Agroecosystems

, Volume 73, Issue 1, pp 59–74 | Cite as

Nitrogen Fluxes in Silage Maize Production: Relationship between Nitrogen Content at Silage Maturity and Nitrate Concentration in Soil Leachate

  • Antje HerrmannEmail author
  • Kurt Christian Kersebaum
  • Friedhelm Taube


A challenge with respect to environmental soundness of agricultural production is the development of suitable indicators, which support an improved understanding and measurement of agricultural activities on environmental quality. The objective of this study was to investigate whether N concentration (Nc) of silage maize at silage maturity, a routinely recorded quality parameter, can serve as an indicator of nitrate concentration in the soil leachate (NO3C). The study was based on a 5-year experiment (1997–2001), conducted on sandy soil in Northern Germany. The experiment involved four mineral N fertilization rates (0, 50, 100, 150 kg N ha−1) and three slurry treatments (0, 20, 40 m3 ha−1). The water and N balance model HERMES was applied to simulate the N flows within the soil–plant system. The model performed satisfactorily for aboveground biomass accumulation, N uptake, soil mineral N, and nitrate leaching. Statistical analysis of the relationship between measured crop N concentration (Nc, g N kg−1) at silage maturity and simulated mean nitrate concentration (NO3C, mg NO31−1) of the leachate (October–March) revealed a significant impact of rainfall amount during spring/summer. Two exponential functions were estimated to describe the relationship for (i) ℈wet’ years: NO3C = 3.4253 × exp(0.3426 × Nc), and (ii) ℈dry’ years: NO3C = 6.8538 × exp(0.1811 × Nc). While in ℈dry’ years nitrate concentration exceeded the drinking water threshold even at very low N concentrations, the risk of high nitrate concentrations was negligible in ℈wet’ years. It is concluded that the newly developed indicator can provide a useful tool for assessing the potential risk of groundwater nitrate contamination in silage maize production.


Forage maize Indicator Modeling N concentration Nitrate leaching Soil mineral N 



dry matter


soil mineral nitrogen


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Copyright information

© Springer 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Antje Herrmann
    • 1
    Email author
  • Kurt Christian Kersebaum
    • 2
  • Friedhelm Taube
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute of Crop Science and Plant Breeding, Grass and Forage Science/Organic AgricultureChristian-Albrechts-University KielKielGermany
  2. 2.Centre for Agricultural Landscape and Land Use ResearchInstitute for Landscape Systems AnalysisMünchebergGermany

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