Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Switchgrass lessens soil nitrate loss into waterways, researchers find

Date:
August 12, 2010
Source:
Iowa State University
Summary:
Researchers have found that by planting switchgrass and using certain agronomic practices, farmers can significantly reduce the amount of nitrogen and nitrates that leach into the soil.

Nitrates that leach into the soil can affect Iowa communities that depend on the rivers for clean drinking water. They can leach into the soil and are carried downstream. These nitrates are believed to contribute to a dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico where few plants or animals survive.
Credit: ISU photo by Bob Elbert

By planting switchgrass and using certain agronomic practices, farmers can significantly reduce the amount of nitrogen and nitrates that leach into the soil, according to Iowa State University research.

Matt Helmers, associate professor of agricultural and biosystems engineering, and Antonio Mallarino, professor of agronomy, have been studying the amount of nitrates that pass through soil into tiling systems from several different types of crops and fertilizer treatments for the past three summers.

The research is funded by the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship and Iowa State's Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture.

They found that certain practices can minimize the amount of nitrogen and nitrates that leach from the field into the drainage tiles.

"One of the biggest things we found is that when alternative biomass sources like switchgrass are grown, even when they use fertilizer, we see dramatically lower nitrate concentrations (in the drainage water)," said Helmers.

The research compared fields that were planted with continuous corn while harvesting just the grain; continuous corn taking the grain and stover; and planting continuous corn taking all possible biomass from the fields. Half of those fields were treated with fertilizer and the other half with manure.

Other fields tested systems that rotate corn and soybeans, and others looked at switchgrass plots that received nitrogen fertilizer.

The results showed that fields planted in continuous corn and treated with fertilizer had the most amount of nitrates leach below the crop root zone into the tile system.

The fields with the least amount of nitrates that leached through the soil were planted in switchgrass and treated with fertilizer or manure.

Helmers says that while switchgrass allows less nitrogen to leach into the soil, farmers need reason plant it.

"Right now, there is not necessarily an economic market for (switchgrass)," said Helmers.

"What we're trying to do is evaluate what might be the environmental benefits of that type of land use," he said. "I think that may be able to inform future policy.

"If we pursue a strategy for additional biofuels from various biomass feedstocks, we need to know what the environmental impacts of those different feedstocks are, because that may play into federal policy," Helmers said.

"If there is enough societal benefit and water quality benefit from growing switchgrass on these soils, there may be potential incentives for producers to grow (switchgrass)," he said.

Helmers estimates that at least a third and possibly as much as half of all farmland in Iowa use tile systems to drain excess water from the fields.

Nitrates that leach into the soil can affect Iowa communities that depend on the rivers for clean drinking water, Helmers says.

Nitrates that leach into the soil and are carried downstream are believed to contribute to a dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico where few plants or animals survive.

Overall, there is need for additional information on how biomass feedstock production systems impact nitrate leaching, said Helmers.

"We do frequently get questions about what is the nitrate level leaching from grassland systems compared to corn and soybean," said Helmers.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Iowa State University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Iowa State University. "Switchgrass lessens soil nitrate loss into waterways, researchers find." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 12 August 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/08/100810122208.htm>.
Iowa State University. (2010, August 12). Switchgrass lessens soil nitrate loss into waterways, researchers find. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 29, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/08/100810122208.htm
Iowa State University. "Switchgrass lessens soil nitrate loss into waterways, researchers find." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/08/100810122208.htm (accessed August 29, 2014).

Share This




More Plants & Animals News

Friday, August 29, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Killer Amoeba Found in Louisiana Water System

Killer Amoeba Found in Louisiana Water System

AP (Aug. 28, 2014) State health officials say testing has confirmed the presence of a killer amoeba in a water system serving three St. John the Baptist Parish towns. (Aug. 28) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Australian Sheep Gets Long Overdue Haircut

Raw: Australian Sheep Gets Long Overdue Haircut

AP (Aug. 28, 2014) Hoping to break the record for world's wooliest, Shaun the sheep came up 10 pounds shy with his fleece weighing over 50 pounds after being shorn for the first time in years. (Aug. 28) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Minds Blown: Scientists Develop Fish That Walk On Land

Minds Blown: Scientists Develop Fish That Walk On Land

Newsy (Aug. 28, 2014) Canadian scientists looking into the very first land animals took a fish out of water and forced it to walk. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Fake Dogs Scare Real Geese from Wis. Park

Fake Dogs Scare Real Geese from Wis. Park

AP (Aug. 28, 2014) Parks officials in Stevens Point, Wisconsin had a fowl problem. Canadian Geese were making a mess of a park, so officials enlisted cardboard versions of man's best friend. (Aug. 28) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins