Effects of 1992 farming systems on ground-water quality at the management systems evaluation area near Princeton, Minnesota

Water-Resources Investigations Report 95-4104

Prepared in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Service, University of Minnesota Department of Soil Science, and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency
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The Management Systems Evaluation Area (MSEA) program was a multiscale, interagency initiative to evaluate the effects of agricultural systems on water quality in the midwest corn belt. The primary objective of the Minnesota MSEA was to evaluate the effects of ridge-tillage practices in a corn and soybean farming system on ground-water quality. The 65-hectare Minnesota MSEA was located in the Anoka Sand Plain near the town of Princeton, Minnesota. Three fanning systems were evaluated: corn-soybean rotation with ridge-tillage (areas B and D), sweet corn-potato rotation (areas A and C), and field corn in consecutive years (continuous corn; area E). Water samples were collected four different times per year from a network of 22 multiport wells and 29 observation wells installed in the saturated zone beneath and adjacent to the cropped areas.

Bromide and chloride were used as tracers of water recharged through the cropped areas during 1992. Bromide applied in May 1992 was first detected above background levels between August 1992 and April 1993. Thus, the time of travel of water and bromide moving through the unsaturated zone during 1992 ranged from 3 to 11 months. Chloride applied to area C (sweet corn) in April 1992 was first detected above the residual levels of 1991 chloride applications in April 1993, 12 months after the chemical was applied. Chloride applies to areas A, B, D, and E in April 1992 was not detected above the residual effects from 1991 chloride applications.

Nitrogen (N) fertilizer applied in 1992 on area C (potatoes) was first detected above background concentrations and the residual effects of the 1991 farming practices in April 1993, 12 months after application. Effects of 1992 N fertilizer applications on area E (continuous com) generally could not be distinguished from the effects of downgradient of area E were consistently greater than background concentrations during August 1992 through April 1993. These concentrations greater than background levels indicate that some N fertilizer applied to the continuous com crop during 1991 reached the water table. Nitrogen fertilizer applied on areas A, B, and D during 1992 could not be distinguished from the residual effects of the 1991 fanning practices but were detected above background concentrations.

Atrazine concentrations beneath the cropped areas were generally indistinguishable from background concentrations. Atrazine was detected in 58 percent of the 361 ground water samples collected beneath cropped and buffer areas during June 1992 through April 1993. Most detections were at trace levels, between the detection limit of 0.01 micrograms per liter (μg/L) and the reporting limit of 0.04 μg/L. De-ethylatrazine (DEA) was detected more frequently during June 1992 through April 1993 (78 percent of the 361 samples) and in greater concentrations than any other herbicide or herbicide metabolite, with a median concentration of 0.07 μg/L. The maximum DEA concentration of 0.77 μg/L was detected near the water table in the middle of area E (continuous corn) during April 1993. The likely source of this DEA detection was application of atrazine to area E during 1991-93. Additional data will be needed to conclusively evaluate whether atrazine applied as part of the MSEA farming systems reached the water table.

Results indicate that the effects of the 1992 potassium-chloride and N fertilizer applications were reduced compared to the effects of 1991 applications. The most important factors associated with these differences were lower chemical application rates and lower recharge rates during 1992 than during 1991. Some of the chloride and N fertilizer applied to the cropped areas in 1992 likely did not reach the saturated zone in 1993 due to a 60-percent reduction in recharge compared to 1991. Therefore, analysis of data from additional years will be required to fully evaluate the effects of the fanning systems on ground-water quality.

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USGS Numbered Series
Effects of 1992 farming systems on ground-water quality at the management systems evaluation area near Princeton, Minnesota
Series title:
Water-Resources Investigations Report
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Year Published:
U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location:
Mounds View, MN
Contributing office(s):
Minnesota Water Science Center
iv, 18 p.
United States
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