Nitrogen (N) from farm fields is a source of pollution to fresh and marine waters. Modifying N fertilizer application rate and timing to consider the spatial and temporal variability in plant N requirements could reduce N losses from farmlands, resulting in improvements to surface water quality. In this study, the field-scale hydrologic and N simulation model DRAINMOD-NII was used to predict nitrate–N losses from fields planted in a corn-soybean rotation at Waseca, Minnesota, USA, over a 15-year period (2003–2017) for two fertilizer application treatments. The N fertilizer treatments simulated included a single uniform fertilizer application in the spring before planting and a variable rate N practice (VRN) where fertilizer was applied as a split pre-plant, side-dress application, based on in-season monitoring of plant N requirements to determine fertilizer rate. Measured discharge (2003–2008) and nitrate–N concentrations in subsurface drainage (2003–2008 and 2016–2017) at the site were used to calibrate discharge and nitrate–N losses in model simulations and validate model performance for uniform vs VRN fertilizer management. Measured nitrate–N concentrations in weekly samples were 13% lower for fields utilizing VRN versus a single spring application in 2016, and 18% lower in 2017. Model predictions of nitrate concentrations based on daily predictions of discharge accurately matched observed data for these years, predicting reductions of 23% and 19% for the years 2016 and 2017, respectively. The results of model simulation for the 15-year period indicated that changing the timing of fertilizer application from a single application to a VRN application could reduce annual N loads lost in drainage by 40%.
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Funding for this research was provided by the Clean Water Land and Legacy Amendment Fund administered through the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.
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Wilson, G.L., Mulla, D.J., Galzki, J. et al. Effects of fertilizer timing and variable rate N on nitrate–N losses from a tile drained corn-soybean rotation simulated using DRAINMOD-NII. Precision Agric 21, 311–323 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11119-019-09668-4
- Variable rate nitrogen
- Nitrate load
- Fertilizer management
- Subsurface drainage
- Water quality