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A flexible approach to managing variability in grain yield and nitrate leaching at within-field to farm scales

Abstract

We up-scaled the APSIM simulation model of crop growth, water and nitrogen dynamics to interpret and respond to spatial and temporal variations in soil, season and crop performance and improve yield and decrease nitrate leaching. Grain yields, drainage below the maximum root depth and nitrate leaching are strongly governed by interaction of plant available soil water storage capacity (PAWC), seasonal rainfall and nitrogen supply in the water-limited Mediterranean-type environment of Western Australia (WA). APSIM simulates the interaction of these key system parameters and the robustness of its simulations has been rigorously tested with the results of several field experiments covering a range of soil types and seasonal conditions in WA. We used yield maps, soil and weather data for farms at two locations in WA to determine spatial and temporal patterns of grain yield, drainage below the maximum root depth and nitrate leaching under a range of weather, soil and nitrogen management scenarios. On one farm, we up-scaled APSIM simulations across the whole farm using local weather and fertiliser use data and the average PAWC values of soil type polygons. On a 70 ha field on another farm, we used a linear regression of apparent soil electrical conductivity (ECa) measured by EM38 against PAWC to transform an ECa map of the field into a high resolution (5 m grid) PAWC map. We then used regressions of simulated yields, drainage below the maximum root depth and nitrate leaching on PAWC to upscale the APSIM simulations for a range of weather and fertiliser management scenarios. This continuous mapping approach overcame the weakness of the soil polygons approach, which assumed uniformity in soil properties and processes within soil type polygons. It identified areas at greatest financial and environmental risks across the field, which required focused management and simulated their response to management interventions. Splitting nitrogen applications increased simulated wheat yields at all sites across the field and decreased nitrate leaching particularly where the water storage capacity of the soil was small. Low water storage capacity resulted in both low wheat yields and large leaching loss. Another management option to decrease leaching may be to grow perennial vegetation that uses more water and loses less by drainage.

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Acknowledgements

This work was co-funded by the GRDC and CSIRO as part of their investments in Nutrient Management. We are grateful to Mr Nirav Khimashia for technical assistance with the APSIM model and to Mr Greg Lyle for assistance in mapping in ArcView. Paper from the 5th European Conference on Precision Agriculture (5ECPA), Uppsala, Sweden, 2005.

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Correspondence to M. T. F. Wong.

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Paper from the 5th European Conference on Precision Agriculture (5ECPA), Uppsala, Sweden, 2005

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Wong, M.T.F., Asseng, S. & Zhang, H. A flexible approach to managing variability in grain yield and nitrate leaching at within-field to farm scales. Precision Agric 7, 405–417 (2006). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11119-006-9023-8

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Keywords

  • APSIM
  • Critical source area
  • Drainage
  • EM38
  • Gamma-ray spectrometry
  • Nitrate leaching
  • Plant available soil water storage capacity
  • Simulation model