Nitrate leaching from arable and horticultural land

D1 - Technical reports: non-confidential

Goulding, K. W. T. 1999. Nitrate leaching from arable and horticultural land. Wiley.

AuthorsGoulding, K. W. T.
TypeD1 - Technical reports: non-confidential

Arable crops in the UK make a large contribution to nitrate leaching by virtue of the land area they cover (> 4.5 million ha). By contrast horticultural crops occupy only a small area (< 0.2 million ha) but can leach very large amounts of nitrogen. The application of nitrogen fertilizer to arable and horticultural crops is very cost-effective, stimulating its use. MAFF's Nitrate Research Programme for arable and horticultural crops aims to reduce nitrate leaching and maintain productive farming through Best Management Practice. The Programme has led to the development and testing of methods to measure nitrate leaching, the identification of 'leaky' crops, soils and practices, and strategies to optimize the use of fertilizer nitrogen. Data have been used to construct and test models of nitrate leaching, which in turn have been used to evaluate the leakiness of potential rotations. Current best practice to minimize nitrate leaching requires measures to improve the efficiency of nitrogen use by crops, combined with measures to protect soil nitrogen from leaching during the late autumn to spring drainage period. This involves consideration of many factors: an appropriate crop variety must be chosen; a green cover must be maintained for as much of the year as is practicable; crops should be drilled early; fertilizer requirements should be calculated using a recommendation system and allowing for soil mineral nitrogen and any manures applied; fertilizers should be spread evenly with a properly calibrated spreader, perhaps using split applications; starter fertilizers and banding of fertilizers should be used where appropriate to reduce losses from vegetables; pest and disease infestation must be minimized; any irrigation must be applied carefully with scheduling. Research is now moving on to study whole farm systems and the interactions between losses of nitrogen and other pollutants to the environment with the aim of minimizing total environmental impact.

KeywordsSoil Science
Year of Publication1999
Page range10-17
Funder project or code222
Project: 031936
SeriesTackling nitrate from agriculture: strategy from science

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