Evaluation of the impact of various agricultural practices on nitrate leaching under the root zone of potato and sugar beet using the STICS soil-crop model

G Jégo, M Martínez, I Antigüedad, M Launay, J M Sanchez-Pérez, E Justes
Science of the Total Environment 2008 May 15, 394 (2): 207-21
The quaternary aquifer of Vitoria-Gasteiz (Basque Country, Northern Spain) is characterised by a shallow water table mainly fed by drainage water, and thus constitutes a vulnerable zone in regards to nitrate pollution. Field studies were performed with a potato crop in 1993 and a sugar beet crop in 2002 to evaluate their impact on nitrate leaching. The overall predictive quality of the STICS soil-crop model was first evaluated using field data and then the model was used to analyze dynamically the impacts of different crop management practices on nitrate leaching. The model was evaluated (i) on soil nitrate concentrations at different depths and (ii) on crop yields. The simulated values proved to be in satisfactory agreement with measured values. Nitrate leaching was more pronounced with the potato crop than with the sugar beet experiment due to i) greater precipitation, ii) lower N uptake of the potato crop due to shallow root depth, and iii) a shorter period of growth. The potato experiment showed that excessive irrigation could significantly increase nitrate leaching by increasing both drainage and nitrate concentrations. The different levels of N-fertilization examined in the sugar beet study had no notable effects on nitrate leaching due to its high N uptake capacity. Complementary virtual experiments were carried out using the STICS model. Our study confirmed that in vulnerable zones agricultural practices must be adjusted, that is to say: 1) N-fertilizer should not be applied in autumn before winter crops; 2) crops with low N uptake capacity (e.g. potatoes) should be avoided or should be preceded and followed by nitrogen catch crops or cover crops; 3) the nitrate concentration of irrigation water should be taken into account in calculation of the N-fertilization rate, and 4) N-fertilization must be precisely adjusted in particular for potato crops.

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