Multiscale Effects of Management, Environmental Conditions, and Land Use on Nitrate Leaching in Dairy Farms

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Abstract

Nitrate leaching in intensive grassland- and silage maize-based dairy farming systems on sandy soil is a main environmental concern. Here, statistical relationships are presented between management practices and environmental conditions and nitrate concentration in shallow groundwater (0.8 m depth) at farm, field, and point scales in the Netherlands, based on data collected in a participatory approach over a 7-yr period at one experimental and eight pilot commercial dairy farms on sandy soil. Farm milk production ranged from 10 to 24 Mg ha-1 Soil and hydrological characteristics were derived from surveys and weather conditions from meteorological stations. Statistical analyses were performed with multiple regression models. Mean nitrate concentration at farm scale decreased from 79 mg L-1 in 1999 to 63 in 2006, with average nitrate concentration in groundwater decreasing under grassland but increasing under maize land over the monitoring period. The effects of management practices on nitrate concentration varied with spatial scale. At farm scale, nitrogen surplus, grazing intensity, and the relative areas of grassland and maize land significantly contributed to explaining the variance in nitrate concentration in groundwater. Mean nitrate concentration was negatively correlated to the concentration of dissolved organic carbon in the shallow groundwater. At field scale, management practices and soil, hydrological, and climatic conditions significantly contributed to explaining the variance in nitrate concentration in groundwater under grassland and maize land. We conclude that, on these intensive dairy farms, additional measures are needed to comply with the European Union water quality standard in groundwater of 50 mg nitrate L-1 The most promising measures are omitting fertilization of catch crops and reducing fertilization levels of first-year maize in the rotation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2016-2028
JournalJournal of Environmental Quality
Volume39
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2010

Keywords

  • organic-carbon
  • cattle slurry
  • nitrogen mineralization
  • grassland management
  • fertilizer nitrogen
  • nutrient management
  • upper groundwater
  • grazed grassland
  • use efficiency
  • water-quality

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