Runoff Water Quality Impact of Variable Rate Sidedress Nitrogen Application Academic Article uri icon


  • In recent years, precision agriculture has received attention from producers, agribusiness, and governmental agencies in an effort to increase profitability and protect the environment. Many aspects of precision agriculture, such as soil fertility, application technology, and economic factors, have received substantial research attention; however, other aspects of precision agriculture have not been well documented. One important issue that warrants increased attention is water quality. Because of precision application technology, variable rate fertilizer application based on withinfield heterogeneity has the potential to decrease negative water quality impacts. Therefore, the objective of this paired watershed study was to evaluate the impact of variable rate nitrogen (N) fertilizer application on surface water quality. The variable rate field was divided into management units designated as poor, moderate, and high based on measured yield potential and received 100-160 kg/ha of N fertilizer. A portion of the N application was uniformly applied preplant or at planting, and rest was sidedressed at variable rates. The uniform rate field received uniform N application at 135 kg/ha. Surface water runoff and water quality were monitored for each field, and collected samples were analyzed for N and phosphorus (P) constituents. During the 2year monitoring period with 22 storm sampling events, variable rate N application resulted in few water quality differences compared to uniform rate application, but overall median NO 3 + NO 2-N concentrations were significantly lower for the variable rate field in the second year of variable rate N application. Overall and event mean NO 3 + NO 2-N concentrations from the variable rate field tended to be higher, but median concentrations from the uniform rate field tended to be higher.

author list (cited authors)

  • Harmel, R. D., Kenimer, A. L., Searcy, S. W., & Torbert, H. A.

citation count

  • 6

publication date

  • June 2004