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Nitrate retention under sugarcane in wet tropical Queensland deep soil profiles

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Rasiah, V., Armour, J. D., Menzies, N. W., Heiner, D.H., Donn, M.J. and Mahendrarajah, S. (2003) Nitrate retention under sugarcane in wet tropical Queensland deep soil profiles. Australian Journal of Soil Research, 41 (6). pp. 1145-1161. ISSN 0004-9573


Article Link: https://doi.org/10.1071/SR02076


Nitrate leaching below the crop root-zone in variable charge soils may be adsorbed at anion exchange sites, thereby temporarily reducing the risk of contamination of water bodies. The objectives of this study were (i) to investigate whether nitrate adsorption, accumulation, and retention in the Johnstone River Catchment of Far North Queensland wet tropics is widespread; (ii) to assess the capacity of soil in the Johnstone River Catchment to retain nitrate; and (iii) to deduce the consequences of nitrate adsorption/desorption on contamination of water bodies. Soil cores ranging from 8 to 12.5 m depth were taken from 28 sites across the catchment, representing 9 Ferrosol soil types under sugarcane (Saccharum officinarum-S) cultivation for at least 50 years and from rainforest. The cores were segmented at 0.5-m depth increments and subsamples were analysed for nitrate-N, cation and anion exchange capacities, pH, exchangeable cations (Ca, Mg, K, Na), soil organic C, electrical conductivity, sulfate-S, and chloride. Nitrate-N concentration under sugarcane ranged from 0 to 72.5 mg/kg, compared with 0 to 0.31 mg/kg under rainforest, both Pin Gin soils. The average N load in 1–12 m depth across 19 highly oxidic profiles of the Pin Gin soil series was 1550 kg/ha, compared with 185 kg/ha under 8 non-Pin Gin soils and 11 kg/ha in rainforest on a Pin Gin soil. Most of the nitrate retention was observed at depth of 2–12 m, particularly at 4–10 m, indicating that the accumulation was well below the crop root-zone. The average maximum potential nitrate retention capacity was 10.8 t/ha for the Pin Gin and 4.7 t/ha for the non-Pin Gin soil. Compared with the current N load, the soils still possess a large capacity to adsorb and retain nitrate in profiles. Retention of large quantities of the leached nitrate deep in most of the profiles has reduced the risk of contamination of water bodies. However, computations show that substantial quantities of the nitrate leached below the root-zone were not adsorbed and remain unaccounted for. This unaccounted nitrate might have entered both on- and off-site water bodies and/or have been denitrified.

Item Type:Article
Subjects:Agriculture > Agriculture (General) > Soils. Soil science > Soil and crops. Soil-plant relationships. Soil productivity
Plant culture > Field crops > Sugar plants
Live Archive:29 Jan 2024 01:29
Last Modified:29 Jan 2024 01:29

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