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Nitrogen leaching losses under a less intensive farming and environment (LIFE) integrated system

Webster, C.P.; Conway, J.S.; Crew, Adrian P.; Goulding, K.W.T.


C.P. Webster

J.S. Conway

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Dr Adrian Crew
Senior Lecturer in Environmental Microbiology

K.W.T. Goulding


Less Intensive Farming and Environment (LIFE) management is a form of integrated farming which aims to meet farming's economic and environmental requirements. We used a farm-scale LIFE demonstration to measure nitrogen (N) leaching losses over a 6 year period (1995-2001) using ceramic suction cups and a meteorological model to give estimates of drainage volumes. Losses from the system averaged 49 kg N ha-1, with an average drainage nitrate concentration of 15.5 mg N L-1. Rainfall and its distribution strongly influenced the loss, and drainage N concentration only fell below the nominal target of 11.3 mg N L-1 (the EU limit for potable water) in the two wettest seasons. Crop type did not have a significant effect on either postharvest mineral N (PHMN) in soil or the leaching loss in the subsequent winter. However PHMN and overwinter N leaching declined with increasing crop yield. Overwinter crop N uptake increased with early sowing: leaching loss was only 5 kg N ha-1 under grass sown in early September. Measurements of PHMN, crop sowing date and drainage data were used to construct simple equations to predict average drainage N concentration under various scenarios. The large N loss from our site is partially attributable to soil type (shallow over limestone), indeed on similar soil the loss from a conventional farm nearby was greater. The LIFE practices of postharvest harrowing and late cereal sowing will minimize the need for agrochemical use but they stimulate mineralization and reduce plant N uptake in autumn, leaving more N at risk to leaching. Some assessment of all environmental impacts is needed if the benefits of integrated practices such as those used in LIFE are to be quantified.


Webster, C., Conway, J., Crew, A. P., & Goulding, K. (2003). Nitrogen leaching losses under a less intensive farming and environment (LIFE) integrated system. Soil Use and Management, 19(1), 36-44.

Journal Article Type Article
Publication Date Jan 1, 2003
Journal Soil Use and Management
Print ISSN 0266-0032
Publisher Wiley
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 19
Issue 1
Pages 36-44
Keywords nitrate, leaching, farming systems, arable farming, water quality
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