Field tile makes corn a nitrogen leaky crop

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“Corn is a leaky crop,” is the quote of Mark David, a professor of biogeochemistry at the University of Illinois, as reported by Gene Lucht, an editor for Missouri Farmer Today.

The reference appears in an article that explains how the amount of nitrogen to feed a corn crop isn’t fully used by the crop before flowing away in field tile water that drains farmland in the Mississippi River basin

Scientists from the University of Illinois and Cornell University “looked at 153 watersheds and used measurements of nitrate concentration and flow that helped them develop a statistical model that explained an 83 percent variation in spring nitrate flow in monitored streams.

“The greatest nitrate losses came in highly productive, tile-drained fields in the Corn Belt,” Lucht wrote in explaining the conclusions of the university researchers.

David provides options for helping reduce the nitrogen leaving corn fields, although none of them alone are cure alls:

1. Adding a small wetland or a conservation structure to help keep nitrates from entering a stream through a tile system.

2. No-till farming.

3. Establishing cover crops.

4. Timing nitrogen application other than all at once in the fall or spring.

5. Widen the spacing of new tile installations.

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