Assessing variable rate nitrogen fertilizer strategies within an extensively instrument field site using the MicroBasin model

Tuesday, 16 December 2014
Nicole Kristine Ward1, Fidel Maureira2, Matthew Allen Yourek1, Erin S Brooks3 and Claudio O Stockle2, (1)University of Idaho, Moscow, ID, United States, (2)Washington State University, Pullman, WA, United States, (3)University of Idaho, Biological and Agricultural Engineering, Moscow, ID, United States
The current use of synthetic nitrogen fertilizers in agriculture has many negative environmental and economic costs, necessitating improved nitrogen management. In the highly heterogeneous landscape of the Palouse region in eastern Washington and northern Idaho, crop nitrogen needs vary widely within a field. Site-specific nitrogen management is a promising strategy to reduce excess nitrogen lost to the environment while maintaining current yields by matching crop needs with inputs. This study used in-situ hydrologic, nutrient, and crop yield data from a heavily instrumented field site in the high precipitation zone of the wheat-producing Palouse region to assess the performance of the MicroBasin model. MicroBasin is a high-resolution watershed-scale ecohydrologic model with nutrient cycling and cropping algorithms based on the CropSyst model. Detailed soil mapping conducted at the site was used to parameterize the model and the model outputs were evaluated with observed measurements. The calibrated MicroBasin model was then used to evaluate the impact of various nitrogen management strategies on crop yield and nitrate losses. The strategies include uniform application as well as delineating the field into multiple zones of varying nitrogen fertilizer rates to optimize nitrogen use efficiency. We present how coupled modeling and in-situ data sets can inform agricultural management and policy to encourage improved nitrogen management.