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Irrigation return flow and nitrate leaching under different crops and irrigation methods in Western Mediterranean weather conditions

Abstract : Agriculture constitutes a major source of non-point pollution (e.g., nitrates) where overall water resources are affected, in particular, aquifers. Intensive agricultural practices take place in regions with appropriate weather conditions that are usually deficient in water resources. The preservation of water resources in these types of regions depends on the evaluation of the efficiency of agricultural practices for specific crops and conditions. Although water scarcity is a characteristic feature in the Western Mediterranean, it is one of the most appropriate regions in the world for intensive agriculture development for climatic reasons. In the current work, percolation and N leaching from different crops (corn, potato, and rotation of lettuce and melon) under different irrigation methods (surface, sprinkler and drip) were evaluated through experimental plots. Water (irrigation + precipitation) and fertilizer inputs were accurately controlled. Soil water content and nitrate concentration were monitored from time domain reflectometry measurements, and cup lysimeters and destructive sampling, respectively. Percolation and nitrate leaching was simulated from different numerical codes (STICS and GLEAMS, tipping bucket method; HYDRUS-1D, Richards' equation), which were chosen based on the available information and the specific purposes of each experiment. For the studied periods, the obtained results showed high percolation values: 34, 58 and 37% of total applied water for corn, potato, and rotation of lettuce and melon, respectively. Also, high N leaching values across all experiences were observed, even higher than the applied doses in some periods as consequence of remobilizing mineralized N, despite following the recommended agricultural management practices. Percolation and N leaching were mostly controlled by the precipitation regime, namely, unevenly distributed intensive rainfall events, mainly in autumn and spring, which have a great impact in irrigated agriculture due to the permanent high soil water content. In detail, irrigation water applied for frost prevention on potato crops and plastic cover for melon crops, played a very important role for both percolation and N leaching. Whilst for the corn crop, N leaching mainly took place in the fallow period (autumn and winter), where the rain leached N present in soil from previous crops.
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R. Poch Massegu, Joaquín Jiménez-Martínez, K.J. Wallis, F. Ramirez de Cartagena Bisbe, L. Candela. Irrigation return flow and nitrate leaching under different crops and irrigation methods in Western Mediterranean weather conditions. Agricultural Water Management, Elsevier Masson, 2013, 134, pp.1-13. ⟨10.1016/j.agwat.2013.11.017⟩. ⟨insu-00941140⟩



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