Nitrogen balance and losses through drainage waters in an agricultural watershed of the Po Valley (Italy)
Rossi Pisa, P
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Sustainable agriculture requires assessments of nitrogen fluxes and monitoring of potential nitrate losses. Watershed studies are particularly valuable to calculate nitrogen balances and quantify the relative importance of different sources of inputs and outputs. A nitrogen balance was calculated from September 2004 to October 2006 in an agricultural watershed named Valle Volta (Northern Italy) located in a Nitrate Vulnerable Zone. The area, consisting of 17.4 km(2) of arable land, with limited presence of urban areas and roads, is entirely below the sea level (3 m b.s.l. in average). Soils are typically Vertic Cambisols and Thionic Fulvisols with fine texture (silty clay or silty clay loam). About 45% of the agricultural soil is pipe-drained. The ground water level is maintained at 4.6 m b.s.l. by the activity of pumps that raise excess waters into a river. Water fluxes in and out from the basin were daily registered, and dissolved inorganic nitrogen concentration (N-NO(3) + N-NH(4)) analyzed periodically. Data about fertilizers applications, seeds and crop yield were obtained from farmers' interviews. Biological nitrogen fixation (BNF) was estimated on the base of dry matter yield. Major N inputs derived from fertilizers (174-188 Mg watershed(-1) year(-1)), followed by BNF (126-131 Mg watershed(-1) year(-1)). Maize was the crop receiving the highest fertilization rates, accounting for more than 40% of total fertilizer inputs. Saleable products were the main form of N leaving the watershed (317-338 Mg watershed(-1) year(-1)). Nitrate was the main N form in irrigation and efflux water; its concentration was higher from autumn to spring, with peaks of 10-20 mg N L(-1) in efflux water, while it was low in summer. Nitrogen losses with efflux water were higher in spring and in autumn. Overall, losses of nitrate by efflux water were limited if compared with literature data. Water balance in the area remained near zero at the beginning and the end of the first year, confirming the suitability of the area for this kind of study. The potential net contribution of each hectare of agricultural soil of Valle Volta basin to the N load toward the Adriatic sea is about 5.5 kg N. Our study demonstrated that in the Valle Volta watershed, total N outputs and inputs are of similar magnitude, indicating that crop management and especially N fertilization techniques has reached good levels of ecological sustainability.
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Nitrogen balance and losses through drainage waters in an agricultural watershed of the Po Valley (Italy) Ventura, M; Scandellari, F; Ventura, F; Guzzon, B; Rossi, Pisa P; Tagliavini, M (Elsevier, 2008)
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