The use of farmgate balances and soil surface balances as estimator for nitrogen leaching to surface water

C.L. Beek, L. Brouwer, O. Oenema

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Abstract

Farmgate balances (FGBs), defined as the difference between nutrient input and nutrient output at farm level, are currently used as a tool to monitor changes in nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) leaching to groundwater and surface water. We postulate that the estimator value of FGBs for N and P leaching to groundwater and surface water depends on (1) the distribution of N and P surpluses over fields within farms, and (2) the partitioning of the surplus over the various nutrient loss pathways. In this study, we assessed intra-farm variability of N and P surpluses and its possible consequences on N leaching to surface waters. Furthermore, we investigated the effect of policies to decrease N and P surpluses at farm level on N and P surpluses at field level. FGBs were derived for six dairy farms in a hydrologically rather isolated polder with grassland on peat soil for three years (1999, 2000 and 2001). Soil surface balances (SSBs), defined as the differences between nutrient input and nutrient output at field level, were derived for the accompanying 65 fields for the same years. On average, FGB surpluses decreased from 271 kg N ha–1 y–1 and 22 kg P ha–1 y–1 in 1999 to 213 kg N ha–1 y–1 and 13 kg P ha–1 y–1 in 2001. Variances in N and P surpluses between fields per farm were compared with variances between farms. For N, variances between fields per farm exceeded variances between farms for all years. A non-linear model was fitted on the measured N loading of the surface water. This model showed that N leaching to surface water was underestimated by 5–46% if the variability in N surpluses between fields per farm was not taken into account. We concluded that estimation of N leaching to surface water, based on data at farm level, can lead to underestimation of the N leaching due to the large variability in N surpluses between fields per farm. The extent of this bias by a given distribution of N surpluses within farms was largely controlled by the partitioning of the N surplus over the various nutrient loss pathways, notably denitrification.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)233-244
JournalNutrient Cycling in Agroecosystems
Volume67
Issue number3
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2003

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Keywords

  • accounting system
  • netherlands
  • phosphorus
  • losses
  • agriculture
  • indicators
  • grassland
  • policy
  • scale
  • land

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