Effects of farming systems on ground-water quality at the management systems evaluation area near Princeton, Minnesota, 1991-95

Water-Resources Investigations Report 98-4128

Prepared in cooperation with the University of Minnesota Department of Soil, Water, and Climate; the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service; and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency
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Ground-water quality in an unconfined sand and gravel aquifer was monitored during 1991-95 at the Minnesota Management Systems Evaluation Area (MSEA) near Princeton, Minnesota. The objectives of the study were to:

(1) describe the effects of three farming systems on groundwater quality, and

(2) evaluate the factors affecting ground-water quality and transport of agricultural chemicals at the site.

Concentrations of nitrate nitrogen (nitrate-N) in the upper 1 meter (m) of the saturated zone were greatest beneath the two cropped areas having a potato-sweet corn annual rotation (median concentrations of 23 and 22 mg/L). Concentrations of nitrate-N were least beneath a cropped area having a field cornsoybean annual rotation (median of 14 mg/L); another cropped area having the field corn-soybean rotation had similar nitrate-N concentrations to those beneath a cropped area having field corn in consecutive years (continuous corn)(medians of 17 mg/L).

Concentrations of atrazine plus metabolites de-ethylatrazine (DEA) and de-isopropylatrazine (DIA), atrazine plus metabolites, were significantly greater during 1994-95 than during 1992- 93 beneath all cropped areas in the upper 1 m of the saturated zone. Concentrations of atrazine plus metabolites during 1994-95 were greatest beneath the continuous corn (median of 1.07 (μg/L), intermediate beneath one cropped area with the potato-sweet corn rotation (median of 0.37 μg/L), and least beneath the other cropped area with the potato-sweet corn rotation, the field corn-soybean rotation, and background areas (medians ranging from 0.11 to 0.21 μg/L), for which concentrations were not significantly different. Concentrations of atrazine plus metabolites during 1992-93 were mostly similar beneath the different cropped areas and background areas. DEA was the predominant atrazine-metabolite detected in ground water; the average DEA to atrazine ratio was 8.0. The herbicides metribuzin, alachlor, and metolachlor were rarely detected in ground water at trace levels and could not be linked to the MSEA farming systems, with the exception of metribuzin detections during 1993-94 at concentrations of 0.14-1.24 (μg/L beneath one cropped area where metribuzin was applied to potatoes.

Peak concentrations of chloride and bromide tracers were usually detected in the upper 2 m of the saturated zone 11 to 19 months after application. Peak concentrations of nitrate-N and atrazine plus metabolites were usually detected about 13 to 27 months and 2 years after application, respectively.

The estimated proportion of applied nitrogen that reached ground water ranged from about 13 to 50 percent with an average of 30 percent. Differences in the concentrations of nitrate-N in ground water between different cropped areas were related to varying nitrogen application rates, timing of nitrogen application, timing of recharge in relation to crop rotation, and differences in nitrogen uptake by crops. In order of importance, plant uptake and leaching to ground water likely account for most of the nitrogen applied. Denitrification likely is an important mechanism affecting nitrate-N concentrations at depths greater than 2 m below the water table.

The proportion of applied atrazine in ground water, detected as atrazine or its metabolites, ranged from 0 to about 1 percent with an average of 0.37 percent. The small proportion of applied atrazine detected in ground water indicates that atrazine was predominantly affected by processes occurring in the soil such as adsorption and degradation. Concentrations of atrazine plus metabolites were related to application rates.

Study Area

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USGS Numbered Series
Effects of farming systems on ground-water quality at the management systems evaluation area near Princeton, Minnesota, 1991-95
Series title:
Water-Resources Investigations Report
Series number:
Year Published:
U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location:
Mounds View, MN
Contributing office(s):
Minnesota Water Science Center
vi, 51 p.
United States
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