Use of long-term monitoring data to derive a relationship between nitrogen surplus and nitrate leaching for grassland and arable land on well-drained sandy soils in the Netherlands

Dico Fraters*, Ton van Leeuwen, Leo Boumans, Joan Reijs

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

The decrease in nitrogen (N) use in agriculture led to improvement of upper groundwater quality in the Sand region of the Netherlands in the 1991–2009 period. However, still half of the farms exceeded the European nitrate standard for groundwater of 50 mg/l in the 2008–2011 period. To assure that farms will comply with the quality standard, an empirical model is used to derive environmentally sound N use standards for sandy soils for different crops and soil drainage conditions. Key parameters in this model are the nitrate-N leaching fractions (NLFs) for arable land and grassland on deep, well-drained sandy soils. NLFs quantify the fraction of the N surplus on the soil balance that leaches from the root zone to groundwater and this fraction represents N available for leaching and denitrification. The aim of this study was to develop a method for calculating these NLFs by using data from a random sample of commercial arable farms and dairy farms that were monitored in the 1991–2009 period. Only mean data per farm were available, which blocked a direct derivation of NLFs for unique combinations of crop type, soil type and natural soil drainage conditions. Results showed that N surplus leached almost completely from the root zone of arable land on the most vulnerable soils, that is, deep, well-drained sandy soils (95% confidence interval of NLF 0.80–0.99), while for grassland only half of the N surplus leached from the root zone of grassland (0.39–0.49). The NLF for grassland decreased with 0.015 units/year, which is postulated to be due to a decreased grazing and increased year-round housing of dairy cows. NLFs are positively correlated with precipitation surplus (0.05 units/100 mm for dairy farms and 0.10 units/100 mm for arable farms). Therefore, an increase in precipitation due to climate change may lead to an increase in leaching of nitrate.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)144-154
JournalActa Agriculturae Scandinavica Section B-Soil and Plant Science
Volume65
Issue numbersuppl.2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2015

Keywords

  • nitrate
  • nitrogen leaching fraction
  • regional scale approach
  • root zone leaching
  • sandy soils
  • upper groundwater

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