Organic Fertilizers and Ground Water Contamination

September 6, 2012 Santa Maria, CA

Tim Stemwedel, California Organic Fertilizers, Inc.

 Ground

Water Contamination by Nitrates
“Nitrates are now the most common groundwater contaminant in California and across the country.

Organic Fertilizers & Groundwater Contamination, Tim Stemwedel, COFI

9/13/2012

Center for Watershed Sciences University of California, Davishttp://groundwaternitrate.ucdavis.edu COFI 9/13/2012

250

Gg nitrogen per year (1 Gg = 1,100 tons).

200

150

Input Outut

100

50

0

Center for Watershed Sciences University of California, Davishttp://groundwaternitrate.ucdavis.edu
9/13/2012

The Fate of All Nitrogen Fertilizers
 

 

May be taken up by the crop, as intended. It may become incorporated in the soil’s organic matter, where it will remain unless it is remobilized by the bacteria and other organisms in the soil. May be leached to groundwater. May be denitrified. This happens when microbes hungry for oxygen utilize. the oxygen atoms of the nitrate ion so that NO; becomes dinitrogen (N2) or nitrous oxide (N20), both of which are gases. Denitrification lessens the nitrate problem but N20 contributes to the 'greenhouse effect'. Ammonium in the fertilizer may be volatilized as ammonia.

Organic Fertilizers & Groundwater Contamination, Tim Stemwedel, COFI

9/13/2012

Do Organic Fertilizers Contribute?

All fertilizers contribute but not all are equal due to the form of Nitrogen. What is in OIM’s – organic fertilizers
◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ Ammonia Nitrate Urea Amino Acids, Proteins Humus and other organic forms

Organic Fertilizers & Groundwater Contamination, Tim Stemwedel, COFI

9/13/2012

Nitrogen Cycle

Amino Acids

Organic Fertilizers & Groundwater Contamination, Tim Stemwedel, COFI

9/13/2012

Do Organic Fertilizers Contribute?
Depends on what happens to the organic components…

Soil microbes eventually convert organic forms of Nitrogen into exactly the same nitrate ion that comes from a synthetic fertilizer The difference is that some of the N is converted into immobilized forms of Nitrogen and cycle in the soil.
Organic Fertilizers & Groundwater Contamination, Tim Stemwedel, COFI

9/13/2012

When will Organic Fertilizers Contribute to leaching?

When microbial release of the nitrogen (ammonia) occurs after the crop is finished. When organic forms of N are in Ammonia or Nitrate form. When applications are not matched to the demand of the plant. When over application is made (OverTopping) to cover high demand peaks
Organic Fertilizers & Groundwater Contamination, Tim Stemwedel, COFI

9/13/2012

Differences in OIMs..

Compost
◦ Small amounts of ammonia, nitrate, urea. ◦ Very High amounts of bound organic forms (humus, etc.) ◦ Low potential for Leaching, may increase sequestering of other N sources

Pelleted Manure, guano
◦ Very high amounts of ammonia, urea, nitrate ◦ Small amounts of bound organic forms (humus, etc.) ◦ High potential for leaching if applied in excess to crop demand or late in season (left-over N)
Organic Fertilizers & Groundwater Contamination, Tim Stemwedel, COFI

9/13/2012

Differences in OIMs..

Proteins (feathermeal, fish, etc.)
◦ Very Small amounts of ammonia, urea, Nitrate ◦ High amounts of unbound organic forms (amino acids, etc) ◦ High potential for leaching if applied where Mineralization occurs AFTER peak crop demand. ◦ Moderate potential for leaching if applied in excess quantities (over-topping). ◦ Low potential for leaching if applied as a base N form and not in excess, best as pre-plant.

Organic Fertilizers & Groundwater Contamination, Tim Stemwedel, COFI

9/13/2012

Differences in OIMs..

Liquid Products High Nitrogen Solubility
◦ Fish hydrolysates, guano extracts – ◦ These products have high solubility Nitrogen in Ammonia, Nitrate or Amine form. Generally used as an “in-season” application to feed high crop demand periods. ◦ Low potential for leaching unless over-applied near end of season.

Organic Fertilizers & Groundwater Contamination, Tim Stemwedel, COFI

9/13/2012

Differences in OIMs..

Liquid Products Low Nitrogen Solubility
◦ Fish Emulsion, Molasses derivatives, Undigested Corn Steep ◦ These products have lower levels of soluble Nitrogen and greater amounts of protein type N. Generally used as an “in-season” application to feed high crop demand periods. ◦ Low potential for leaching unless over-applied near end of season. ◦ Some have a high C:N ratio that results in immobilization and carry-over of Nitrogen.
Organic Fertilizers & Groundwater Contamination, Tim Stemwedel, COFI 9/13/2012

Research

Nevertheless, we could not find any evidence that nitrate leaching will be reduced by the introduction of organic farming practices, if the goal is to maintain the same crop yield levels as in conventional farming systems. Reduction of nitrate leaching is not a question of organic or conventional farming, but rather of introduction and use of appropriate countermeasures. This insight should guide our thinking when developing environmentally friendly and sustainable cropping systems.
Organic Fertilizers & Groundwater Contamination, Tim Stemwedel, COFI

9/13/2012

Research
Alternative Production Systems to reduce nitrates in ground water Robert I. Papendick, Lloyd F. Elliott, and James F. Power

Abstract Most important in nitrogen fertilizer management is to more closely match nitrogen availability in the soil with crop needs and to avoid overfertilization. Nitrogen fertilizer use can be reduced by alternate cropping of low and high nitrogen -demanding crops, use of legumes in the crop rotation to fix nitrogen, an d proper use of manures, crop residues, and other organic wastes. Residual nitrates in soil can be reduced by use of cover crops, nitrogenscavenging crops in the rotation, and alternating shallow and deeprooted crops. Practices used by organic farmers should be carefully studied as possible approaches for ground water protection and adaptation into conservation tillage systems for conserving soil and water resources.

Organic Fertilizers & Groundwater Contamination, Tim Stemwedel, COFI

9/13/2012

Research

  

Nitrate leaching was 4-5 times higher in conventional plots than organic. Higher organic matter in organic Greater microbial activity in organic Greater denitrification efficiency (N gas release compared to Nitrate losses) (Used compost and cover crops.)
Organic Fertilizers & Groundwater Contamination, Tim Stemwedel, COFI

9/13/2012

Research

Organic Fertilizers & Groundwater Contamination, Tim Stemwedel, COFI

9/13/2012

Nitrate leaching: comparing conventional, integrated and organic agricultural production systems
 

by

Guido Haas, Martin Berg, Ulrich Köpke Institute of Organic Agriculture, University of Bonn, Katzenburgweg 3, D-53115 Bonn,

Germany.

Organic Fertilizers & Groundwater Contamination, Tim Stemwedel, COFI

9/13/2012

“There was little decrease in the NO3concentration of the percolate and the amount of leached N (15% less) by shifting from conventional practice to integrated farming. Converting to organic farming reduced leaching losses of nitrogen by more than 50 %.”
Organic Fertilizers & Groundwater Contamination, Tim Stemwedel, COFI

9/13/2012

Organic Fertilizers & Groundwater Contamination, Tim Stemwedel, COFI

9/13/2012

Regular applications of poultry litter to a sandy arable soil: effects on nitrate leaching and nitrogen balance
Mark Shepherd*, Anne Bhogal

At rates of broiler litter which supplied more N than the crop required (generally above 10 t ha−1 each year), nitrate-N leaching losses were large; at the largest application rate (akin to a disposal, rather than a planned fertilizer strategy), concentrations peaked at c 500 mg litre−1 N.

Organic Fertilizers & Groundwater Contamination, Tim Stemwedel, COFI

9/13/2012

Organic Fertilizers & Groundwater Contamination, Tim Stemwedel, COFI

9/13/2012

Compost, Manure and Synthetic Fertilizer Influences Crop Yields, Soil Properties, Nitrate Leaching and Crop Nutrient Content
Paul Hepperly, Don Lotter, Christine Ziegler Ulsh, Rita Seidel and Carolyn Reider

Broiler litter leaf compost (BLLC) showed the lowest nitrate leaching of all the nutrient amendments tested (P= 0.05).

Organic Fertilizers & Groundwater Contamination, Tim Stemwedel, COFI

9/13/2012

Do Organic Fertilizers Contribute?

Research appears to indicate:
◦ Compost leaches low levels of Nitrate ◦ Manure/guano leaches more or equal to Synthetics ◦ No research found on proteins

Organic Fertilizers & Groundwater Contamination, Tim Stemwedel, COFI

9/13/2012

Nitrate Leaching Reduction

Use less fertilizer.
Depending on the type of crop and soil conditions, some plants only use half of the fertilizer a farmer applies – leaving the rest to evaporate or percolate into the groundwater. Avoid Over-Topping Avoiding over-application of Nitrogen at preplant will reduce leachable Nitrate levels after harvest.
Organic Fertilizers & Groundwater Contamination, Tim Stemwedel, COFI

 

9/13/2012

Over-topping with N

Organic Fertilizers & Groundwater Contamination, Tim Stemwedel, COFI

9/13/2012

Use of Soluble irrigation applied Liquid Fertilizers during high crop demand

Organic Fertilizers & Groundwater Contamination, Tim Stemwedel, COFI

9/13/2012

Nitrate Leaching Reduction

Using a “quick nitrate” test, provided by the University of California Cooperative Extension, growers can gauge how many nitrates are already in the soil and use only as much fertilizer as their lettuce needs to grow.

Organic Fertilizers & Groundwater Contamination, Tim Stemwedel, COFI

9/13/2012

Fertilizer and irrigation go hand in hand, and conserving irrigation water cuts down on fertilizer use as well. Drip and other irrigation systems can deliver the Nitrogen directly to the root zone. Use of Soil moisture monitoring tools improve nutrient uptake.

Organic Fertilizers & Groundwater Contamination, Tim Stemwedel, COFI

9/13/2012

ReCap of how OIM’s Relate to GW Nitrate Contamination

Compost
◦ Even though Compost has a relatively high C:N ration and low PAN, compost is also low in soluble, mineralizable Nitrogen – low threat

Manure/Poultry Litter
◦ May be affected the greatest due to high C:N and low Plant Available Nitrogen. Also used at very high rates.

Guano
◦ High impact due to high mineral N. Application techniques need to minimize leaching.
Organic Fertilizers & Groundwater Contamination, Tim Stemwedel, COFI 9/13/2012

ReCap of how OIM’s Relate to GW Nitrate Contamination

Proteins
◦ Slow release rate of Nitrogen due to biological mineralization requirement increases efficiency, but on short-term crops will create greater leachable Nitrogen if a follow-up crop is not grown to capture the excess N.

Liquid Fish, Guano and other Liquids
◦ May be used in greater quantities to supply crop demand and to allow for lower pre-plant Nitrogen rates
Organic Fertilizers & Groundwater Contamination, Tim Stemwedel, COFI

9/13/2012

Thanks!

You can find this presentation located on the web at www.organicag.com or Organic Fertilizer Association of Calif. Website at: www.organicfertilizerassociation.com Tim Stemwedel, tim@organicag.com
◦ 559-250-1245

Organic Fertilizers & Groundwater Contamination, Tim Stemwedel, COFI

9/13/2012

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