Nitrogen leaching from the root zone of sugarcane and bananas in the humid tropics of Australia

Armour, J.D., Nelson, P.N., Daniells, J.W., Rasiah, V., and Inman-Bamber, N.G. (2013) Nitrogen leaching from the root zone of sugarcane and bananas in the humid tropics of Australia. Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment, 180. pp. 68-78.

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Abstract

Loss of nitrogen in deep drainage from agriculture is an important issue for environmental and economic reasons, but limited field data is available for tropical crops. In this study, nitrogen (N) loads leaving the root zone of two major humid tropical crops in Australia, sugarcane and bananas, were measured. The two field sites, 57 km apart, had a similar soil type (a well drained Dermosol) and rainfall (∼2700 mm year^−1) but contrasting crops and management. A sugarcane crop in a commercial field received 136–148 kg N ha^−1 year^−1 applied in one application each year and was monitored for 3 years (first to third ratoon crops). N treatments of 0–600 kg ha^−1 year^−1 were applied to a plant and following ratoon crop of bananas. N was applied as urea throughout the growing season in irrigation water through mini-sprinklers. Low-suction lysimeters were installed at a depth of 1 m under both crops to monitor loads of N in deep drainage. Drainage at 1 m depth in the sugarcane crops was 22–37% of rainfall. Under bananas, drainage in the row was 65% of rainfall plus irrigation for the plant crop, and 37% for the ratoon. Nitrogen leaching loads were low under sugarcane (<1–9 kg ha^−1 year^−1) possibly reflecting the N fertiliser applications being reasonably matched to crop requirements and at least 26 days between fertiliser application and deep drainage. Under bananas, there were large loads of N in deep drainage when N application rates were in excess of plant demand, even when applied fortnightly. The deep drainage loss of N attributable to N fertiliser, calculated by subtracting the loss from unfertilised plots, was 246 and 641 kg ha^−1 over 2 crop cycles, which was equivalent to 37 and 63% of the fertiliser application for treatments receiving 710 and 1065 kg ha^−1, respectively. Those rates of fertiliser application resulted in soil acidification to a depth of 0.6 m by as much as 0.6 of a unit at 0.1–0.2 m depth. The higher leaching losses from bananas indicated that they should be a priority for improved N management.

Item ID: 24770
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1873-2305
Keywords: Great Barrier Reef; deep drainage; fertiliser management; soil acidification; WaterSense
Funders: Australian Research Council, Horticulture Australia
Projects and Grants: LP0669439, FR95013
Date Deposited: 31 Jan 2013 00:38
FoR Codes: 07 AGRICULTURAL AND VETERINARY SCIENCES > 0701 Agriculture, Land and Farm Management > 070101 Agricultural Land Management @ 50%
05 ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES > 0502 Environmental Science and Management > 050209 Natural Resource Management @ 50%
SEO Codes: 82 PLANT PRODUCTION AND PLANT PRIMARY PRODUCTS > 8202 Horticultural Crops > 820214 Tropical Fruit @ 50%
82 PLANT PRODUCTION AND PLANT PRIMARY PRODUCTS > 8203 Industrial Crops > 820304 Sugar @ 50%
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