Skip to main content

Effects of fertilizer timing and variable rate N on nitrate–N losses from a tile drained corn-soybean rotation simulated using DRAINMOD-NII

Abstract

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%.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4

References

  1. Bakhsh, A., Kanwar, R. S., Bailey, T. B., Cambardella, C. A., Karlen, D. L., & Colvin, T. S. (2002). Cropping system effects on NO3−N loss with subsurface drainage water. Transactions of the ASAE,45(6), 1789–1797.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Bierman, P. M., Rosen, C. J., Venterea, R. T., & Lamb, J. A. (2012). Survey of nitrogen fertilizer use on corn in Minnesota. Agricultural Systems,109, 43–52.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Bouwer, H., & Van Schilfgaarde, J. (1963). Simplified method of predicting fall of water table in drained land. Transactions of the ASAE,6(4), 288–0291.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. CENR—Committee on Environment and Natural Resources (2010). Scientific assessment of hypoxia in U.S. coastal waters. Interagency working group on harmful algal blooms, hypoxia, and human health of the Joint Subcommittee on Ocean Science and Technology, Washington, DC, USA.

  5. Christianson, L. E., & Harmel, R. D. (2015). 4R Water quality impacts: An assessment and synthesis of forty years of drainage nitrogen losses. Journal of Environmental Quality,44(6), 1852–1860.

    CAS  PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  6. David, M. B., Drinkwater, L. E., & McIsaac, G. F. (2010). Sources of nitrate yields in the Mississippi River Basin. Journal of Environmental Quality,39(5), 1657–1667.

    CAS  PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Dinnes, D. L., Karlen, D. L., Jaynes, D., Kaspar, T. C., Hatfield, J., Colvin, T., et al. (2002). Nitrogen management strategies to reduce nitrate leaching in tile-drained Midwestern soils. Agronomy Journal,9(1), 153–171.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Erickson, B., & Widmar, D. A. (2015). 2015 Precision agricultural services dealership survey results. West Lafayette, IN, USA: Purdue University.

    Google Scholar 

  9. Gast, R. G., Nelson, W. W., & Randall, G. W. (1978). Nitrate accumulation in soils and loss in tile drainage following nitrogen applications to continuous corn. Journal of Environmental Quality,7(2), 258–261.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Jaynes, D. B., Colvin, T. S., Karlen, D. L., Cambardella, C. A., & Meek, D. W. (2001). Nitrate loss in subsurface drainage as affected by nitrogen fertilizer rate. Journal of Environmental Quality,30(4), 1305–1314.

    CAS  PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Kladivko, E. J., Frankenberger, J. R., Jaynes, D. B., Meek, D. W., Jenkinson, B. J., & Fausey, N. R. (2004). Nitrate leaching to subsurface drains as affected by drain spacing and changes in crop production system. Journal of Environmental Quality,33(5), 1803–1813.

    CAS  PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Licht, M., Abendroth, L. J., Elmore, R. W., Boyer, M. J., & Marlay, S. K. (2011). Corn growth and development. Ames, IA, USA: Iowa State University Extension publication.

    Google Scholar 

  13. Luo, W., Sands, G. R., Youssef, M., Strock, J. S., Song, I., & Canelon, D. (2010). Modeling the impact of alternative drainage practices in the northern corn-belt with DRAINMOD-NII. Agricultural Water Management,97(3), 389–398.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Mamo, M., Malzer, G. L., Mulla, D. J., Huggins, D. R., & Strock, J. (2003). Spatial and temporal variation in economically optimum nitrogen rate for corn. Agronomy Journal,95(4), 958–964.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Moriasi, D. N., Arnold, J. G., Van Liew, M. W., Bingner, R. L., Harmel, R. D., & Veith, T. L. (2007). Model evaluation guidelines for systematic quantification of accuracy in watershed simulations. Transactions of the ASABE,50(3), 885–900.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. MPCA—Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. (2013). Nitrogen in Minnesota surface waters: Conditions, trends, sources, and reductions. Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, Saint Paul, MN, USA.

  17. Mulla, D. J. (2013). Twenty five years of remote sensing in precision agriculture: Key advances and remaining knowledge gaps. Biosystems Engineering,114(4), 358–371.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Nangia, V., Gowda, P. H., Mulla, D. J., & Sands, G. R. (2008). Water quality modeling of fertilizer management impacts on nitrate losses in tile drains at the field scale. Journal of Environmental Quality,37(2), 296–307.

    CAS  PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Power, J. F., Wiese, R., & Flowerday, D. (2000). Managing nitrogen for water quality-lessons from management systems evaluation area. Journal of Environmental Quality,29(2), 355–366.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Randall, G. W. (2004). Subsurface drain flow characteristics during a 15-year period in Minnesota. In Proceedings of the 8thInternational Drainage Symposium Drainage VIII (pp. 21–24). St. Joseph, MI, USA: ASAE.

  21. Randall, G. W., and Goss, M. J. (2008). Nitrate losses to surface water through subsurface, tile drainage. In J.L Hatfield and R. F. Follett (Eds), Nitrogen in the environment: Sources, problems, and management (pp. 145–175). New York, USA: Elsevier.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  22. Randall, G. W., & Mulla, D. J. (2001). Nitrate nitrogen is surface waters as influenced by climatic conditions and agricultural practices. Journal of Environmental Quality,30, 337–344.

    CAS  PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Randall, G. W., Vetsch, J. A., & Huffman, J. R. (2003). Nitrate losses in subsurface drainage from a corn-soybean rotation as affected by time of nitrogen application and use of nitrapyrin. Journal of Environmental Quality,32(6), 1764–1772.

    CAS  PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Roberts, D. F., Kitchen, N. R., Scharf, P. C., & Sudduth, K. A. (2010). Will variable-rate nitrogen fertilization using corn canopy reflectance sensing deliver environmental benefits? Agronomy Journal,102(1), 85–95.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Sands, G. R., Householder, K. B., & Busman, L. M. (2001). Design of a subsurface drainage research facility with LANDRAIN and SEDCAD 4. Applied Engineering in Agriculture,17(3), 309–314.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Sands, G. R., Song, I., Busman, L. M., & Hansen, B. J. (2008). The effects of subsurface drainage depth and intensity on nitrate loads in the Northern cornbelt. Transactions of the ASABE,51(3), 937–946.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Scharf, P. C., Hubbard, V. C., Lory, J. A., Kitchen, N. R., Sudduth, K. A., & Davis, J. G. (2005). Field-scale variability in optimal nitrogen fertilizer rate for corn. Agronomy Journal,97(2), 452–461.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Scharf, P. C., Shannon, D. K., Palm, H. L., Sudduth, K. A., Drummond, S. T., Kitchen, N. R., et al. (2011). Sensor-based nitrogen applications out-performed producer-chosen rates for corn in on-farm demonstrations. Agronomy Journal,103(6), 1683–1691.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Schulte, L. A., Liebman, M., Asbjornsen, H., & Crow, T. R. (2006). Agroecosystem restoration through strategic integration of perennials. Journal of Soil and Water Conservation,61(6), 164A–169A.

    Google Scholar 

  30. Sela, S., van Es, H. M., Moebius-Clune, B. N., Marjerison, R., Melkonian, J., Moebius-Clune, et al. (2016). Adapt-N outperforms grower-selected nitrogen rates in northeast and Midwestern United States strip trials. Agronomy Journal,108(4), 1726–1734.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  31. Skaggs, R. W., Youssef, M. A., & Chescheir, G. M. (2012). DRAINMOD: Model use, calibration, and validation. Transactions of the ASABE,55(4), 1509–1522.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. US EPA. (2007). Hypoxia in the northern gulf of Mexico: An update by the EPA science advisory board. Rep. EPA-SAB-08-003. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, D.C., USA.

  33. Walker, W. W. (1996). Simplified procedures for eutrophication assessment and prediction: User manual, instruction report W-96-2. Vicksburg, MS, USA: Army Engineer Waterways Experiment Station.

    Google Scholar 

  34. Wilson, G. L., Laacouri, A., Galzki, J., and Mulla, D. J. (2017). Impacts of variable rate nitrogen (VRN) on nitrate-N losses from tile drained maize in Minnesota, USA. In J A Taylor, D Cammarano, A Prashar, A Hamilton (Eds.), Proceedings of the 11thEuropean Conference on Precision Agriculture. Advances in Animal Biosciences: 8(2), (pp.317–321).

  35. Youssef, M. A., Skaggs, R. W., Chescheir, G. M., & Gilliam, J. W. (2005). The nitrogen simulation model DRAINMOD-N II. Transactions of the ASAE,48(2), 611–626.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

Funding for this research was provided by the Clean Water Land and Legacy Amendment Fund administered through the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to David J. Mulla.

Additional information

Publisher's Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

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

Download citation

Keywords

  • DRAINMOD-NII
  • Variable rate nitrogen
  • Nitrate load
  • Fertilizer management
  • Subsurface drainage
  • Water quality