Controls on nitrate loading and implications for BMPs under intensive potato production systems in Prince Edward Island, Canada.

Zebarth, B.J., Danielescu, S., Nyiraneza, J., Ryan, M.C., Jiang, Y., Grimmett, M.G., and Burton, D.L. (2015). "Controls on nitrate loading and implications for BMPs under intensive potato production systems in Prince Edward Island, Canada.", Ground Water Monitoring and Remediation, 35(1), pp. 30-42. doi : 10.1111/gwmr.12088  Access to full text


Potato production is critical to economy of Prince Edward Island (PEI), but has been linked to increasing groundwater nitrate contamination and anoxic events in estuaries. Given that PEI is entirely groundwater-dependent for potable water, this has resulted in considerable pressure to find solutions to protect water quality. However, our understanding of the controls on nitrate loading to groundwater, and the consequent potential to mitigate nitrate loading through beneficial management practices (BMPs), is limited. In PEI, flow and nitrate transport in the vadose zone are controlled by the matrix porosity of the till and sandstone, while flow and transport in the saturated zone are controlled by a conductive fracture network with limited storage capacity. Diffusion of nitrate stored in the matrix may introduce a significant time lag between reduced nitrate loading from implementation of BMPs and measureable improvement in groundwater quality. BMPs with potential to mitigate nitrate loading to groundwater through improved nitrogen fertilizer practices in producing potato crops have been identified, but implementation of these practices alone is not sufficient to control nitrate loading due to the economic context of potato production. Additional BMPs for improved potato cropping systems have also been identified; however, reducing the intensity of agricultural production, including the proportion of land in potato production, at the watershed level may be required to meet the drinking water guideline for nitrate in PEI. Given the important role of market forces in determining profitability of crop production, it becomes challenging to modify crop production practices to meet an environmental goal without some additional external incentive or public pressure. © 2015 National Ground Water Association.

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