Abstract Nutrient and soil loss from agricultural areas impairs surface water quality globally. In the Great Lakes region, increases in the frequency and magnitude of harmful and nuisance algal blooms in freshwater lakes have been linked to elevated phosphorus (P) losses from agricultural fields, some of which are transported via tile drainage. This study examined whether concentrations and loads of P fractions, total suspended sediments (TSS), nitrate (NO 3 − ), and ammonium (NH 4 + ) in tile drainage in a clay soil differed between a continuous no‐till system combining cover crops and surface broadcast fertilizer (no‐till cover crop [NTCC]), and a more conventional tillage system with shallow tillage, fertilizer incorporation and limited use of cover crops (conventional conservation‐till, CT). Both sites had modest soil fertility levels. Year‐round, high‐frequency observations of tile drainage flow and chemistry are described over 4 full water years and related to management practices on the associated fields. There were similar water yields in tile drainage between the two systems; however, losses of TSS, particulate P (PP), and NO 3 − were consistently greater from the CT site, which received larger quantities of fertilizer. In contrast, dissolved reactive P (DRP) losses were considerably greater from the NTCC site, offsetting the lower PP losses, such that there was little difference in TP losses between sites. Approximately 60% of the DRP losses from the NTCC site over the 4 years were associated with incidental losses following surface application of fertilizer in fall. This study provides insight into trade‐offs in controlling losses of different nutrient fractions using different management systems.
One size does not fit all: Toward regional conservation practice guidance to reduce phosphorus loss risk in the Lake Erie watershed
Merrin L. Macrae,
Helen P. Jarvie,
Grant E. Gunn,
Kevin W. King,
Peter J. A. Kleinman,
Mark R. Williams,
Journal of Environmental Quality, Volume 50, Issue 3
Agricultural phosphorus (P) losses to surface water bodies remain a global eutrophication concern, despite the application of conservation practices on farm fields. Although it is generally agreed upon that the use of multiple conservation practices (“stacking”) will lead to greater improvements to water quality, this may not be cost effective to farmers, reducing the likelihood of adoption. At present, wholesale recommendations of conservation practices are given; however, the application of specific conservation practices in certain environments (e.g., no-till with surface application, cover crops) may not be effective and can even lead to unintended consequences. In this paper, we present the Lake Erie watershed as a case study. The Lake Erie watershed contains regions with unique physical geographies that include differences in climate, soil, topography, and land use, which have implications for both P transport from agricultural fields and the efficacy of conservation practices in mitigating P losses. We define major regions within the Lake Erie watershed where common strategies for conservation practice implementation are appropriate, and we propose a five-step plan for bringing regionally tailored, adaptive, and cost-conscious conservation practice into watershed planning. Although this paper is specific to the Lake Erie watershed, our framework can be transferred across broader geographic regions to provide guidance for watershed planning.