Nitrogen fertilizer and herbicide transport from tile drained fields

Lowell E. Gentry, Mark B. David, Karen M. Smith-Starks, David A. Kovacic

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Offsite transport of N fertilizers and pesticides through subterranean drainage pipes (tiles) has been linked to surface water contamination in the U.S. Corn Belt. This study was conducted from water years 1995 to 1997 to evaluate N export from two tile systems (Tiles A and B) in adjacent fields [in seed corn-soybean rotation (Zea mays L.-Glycine max (L.) Merr.)] in response to timing and form of N application. In addition, during the 1997 water year, concentrations of two herbicides were determined on grab samples to relate tile herbicide losses with field application rates. During the 1995 and 1996 water years, Tile A exported approximately 20% more N per unit area than Tile B; however, during the 1997 water year, Tile A exported nearly 70% more N. This result was partly caused by the leaching of 142 kg of NH+/4-N following a winter application of (NH4)2SO4 fertilizer in the drainage area of Tile A. The fertilizer was applied on top of 10 cm of snow, and within 4 d, a series of afternoon melting events began. We hypothesize that increased tile flow rates were caused by rapid infiltration of melt water through partially frozen soil (Drummer silty clay loam, fine-silty, mixed mesic Typic Haplaquolls) that allowed the NH+/4 ion to bypass the soil matrix (conc. reached 278 mg NH+/4-N L-1). The incidence of elevated concentrations of N fertilizer and herbicides in tiles during high flow events following agrichemical application indicated rapid water transport via preferential flow paths, thereby limiting the contact of these solutes with the soil.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)232-240
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Environmental Quality
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2000

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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