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Impact of modified tillage on runoff and nutrient loads from potato fields in Prince Edward Island

Gordon, R.J., Vanderzaag, A.C., Dekker, P.A., De Haan, R., Madani, A. (2011). Impact of modified tillage on runoff and nutrient loads from potato fields in Prince Edward Island, 98(12), 1782-1788.


Potato production accounts for ∼24% of the cultivated land-use in Prince Edward Island, Canada. The island often experiences prolonged dry periods interspersed with excessive rainfall events throughout the growing season. Thus, water retention is important for maximum crop production while sediment and nutrient loading to surface water systems are also concerns. Therefore, agronomic practices that reduce the environmental impact of potato production are being sought. Basin tillage (BT) is a potential option in which small dams are created in the furrows (row middles), resulting in basins that enhance infiltration, reduce runoff, minimize contaminant loads, and increase yields.This on-farm study compared BT against two types of 'conventional' hilling treatments with replicated plots on four field sites over two growing seasons. Field sites had sandy loam soils with topography slopes ranging from 3% to 5%. Within each field, nine 25 m long and 3.66 m wide (4 rows) plots were established, including three plots of each hilling treatment (CT = conventional tillage; RS. = row shaper tillage; BT. = basin tillage). Runoff volume, nutrient (phosphate, ammonium, nitrate) and suspended solids loads were measured using collection barrels on the down slope end of each furrow.Basin tillage had 78% and 75% less runoff than CT and RS, respectively (P<. 0.05). Runoff differences between BT and CT were significant at all sites while runoff differences between BT and RS were significant at three of four sites. Reductions for each parameter (on a mass basis) averaged across all sites were: sediment 89%, nitrate 45%, ammonium 38%, and phosphate 15%; although, treatment effect was not significant for some mass loads in some fields. No significant effect on marketable potato yield was observed at any site; soil water was not limiting in either growing season. Overall, basin tillage was effective at reducing runoff and nutrient losses without affecting yield and appears to be an effective tool for decreasing environmental risks. © 2011 Elsevier B.V.

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