Date of Award
Master of Science
Sediment and nutrient loss from agricultural landscapes contributes to water quality impairment and has the potential to impact crop yield. Best management practices (BMPs) such as riparian buffers have been designed to combat these issues; however, concentrated flow paths (CFPs) reduce their effectiveness and are often overlooked in agricultural fields. Conventional management of CFPs is to fill and grade them, however this provides only a short term solution leading to their reformation and increased sediment loss. The objectives of this project were: i) to determine if the filling of CFPs influence crop growth (yield and biomass), ii) determine a distance at which crop growth is no longer influenced by CFPs, iii) assess the impact that topography and CFPs have on crop growth, iv) analyze water quality in surface runoff leaving crop fields via CFPs, and v) develop an economic analysis for CFP’s influence on crop returns. Six small agricultural catchments, CFPs, and topographic positions (i.e., depositional, backslope, and shoulder) were delineated using ArcGIS and LiDAR data. In each catchment, six 4 m2 plots were established along CFPs where crop biomass and crop yield were measured. Additionally, six plots with no influence from CFPs were established as reference plots. Surface water quality was assessed by taking edge-of-field grab samples at the CFP outlet during significant rain events (i.e., precipitation exceeding 2.5 cm). Water samples were analyzed for total suspended solids (TSS), total phosphorus (TP), dissolved reactive phosphorus (DRP), ammonium-nitrogen (NH4+-N), and nitrate-N (NO3- -N). Through this study it was shown that CFPs served as a conduit for transporting nutrient and sediment laden runoff to receiving waters, that increasing/decreasing distance from CFPs had an impact on crop yields, and that there was no crop yield advantage from the filling of CFPs vs. leaving them unfilled. Median values for NO3-N (1.85 mg L-1) and TSS (140 mg L-1) in the Fill catchments were higher than the No-Fill catchments (0.77 mg L-1 and 35.5 mg L-1, respectively), while DRP and TP concentrations were higher in the No-Fill catchments (1.31 mg L-1 and 2.37 mg L-1, respectively) compared to the Fill catchments (0.91 mg L-1 and 1.83 mg L-1, respectively) over the growing season. Crop biomass and yield results between the depositional and backslope positions were similar regardless of treatment, but were lower than the reference plots and shoulder position. Results from the economic analysis on the cost of farming in/near CFPs indicated that the economic return was greatly dependent on precipitation. CFPs are generally concave positions on the landscapes and have been eroded to a clayey subsoil, both resulting in greater water accumulation and retention than elsewhere in the field. During wetter years, an economic loss was incurred nearest to the CFP and during drier years, sites nearest to CFPs saw positive returns. Farmers and land managers may consider implementing stabilization measures, such as grassed waterways, in CFPs since crop yields are typically lower in wetter years, there’s increased cost to maintain these areas, and accelerated sediment loss can exacerbate the crop yield losses and impact on water quality.
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