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Impact of Practice Change on Runoff Water Quality and Vegetable Yield—An On-Farm Case Study

Author

Listed:
  • Gunasekhar Nachimuthu

    () (NSW Department of Primary Industries, Australian Cotton Research Institute, 21888 Kamilaroi Highway, Narrabri, NSW 2390, Australia
    Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (QLD), Bundaberg Research Facility, 49 Ashfield Road, Kalkie, QLD 4670, Australia)

  • Neil V. Halpin

    () (Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (QLD), Bundaberg Research Facility, 49 Ashfield Road, Kalkie, QLD 4670, Australia)

  • Michael J. Bell

    () (School of Agriculture and Food Sciences, University of Queensland, Gatton, QLD 4343, Australia)

Abstract

Intensive agricultural practices in farming systems in eastern Australia have been identified as a contributor to the poor runoff water quality entering the Great Barrier Reef (GBR). A field investigation was carried out to measure the off-farm water quality and productivity in a coastal farming system in northeastern Australia. Two vegetable crops (capsicum and zucchini) were grown in summer 2010–2011 and winter 2011 respectively using four different management practices (Conventional—plastic mulch, bare inter-row conventional tillage and commercial fertilizer inputs; Improved—improved practice with plastic mulch, inter-row vegetative mulch, zonal tillage and reduced fertilizer rates; Trash mulch—improved practice with cane-trash or forage-sorghum mulch with reduced fertilizer rates, minimum or zero tillage; and Vegetable only—improved practice with Rhodes grass or forage-sorghum mulch, minimum or zero tillage, reduced fertilizer rates). Results suggest improved and trash mulch systems reduced sediment and nutrient loads by at least 50% compared to conventional systems. The residual nitrate nitrogen in soil accumulated at the end-of-break crop cycle was lost by deep drainage before the subsequent sugarcane crop could utilize it. These results suggest that future research into establishing the linkages between deep drainage, groundwater quality and lateral movement into adjacent streams is needed. The improvement in runoff water quality was accompanied by yield reductions of up to 55% in capsicum and 57% in zucchini under trash mulch systems, suggesting a commercially unacceptable trade-off between water quality and productivity for a practice change. The current study has shown that variations around improved practice (modified nutrient application strategies under plastic mulch, but with an inter-space mulch to minimize runoff and sediment loss) may be the most practical solution to improve water quality and maintain productivity. However, more work is required to optimize this approach and thus reduce the size of any potential productivity and profitability gap that would necessitate an expensive policy intervention to implement.

Suggested Citation

  • Gunasekhar Nachimuthu & Neil V. Halpin & Michael J. Bell, 2017. "Impact of Practice Change on Runoff Water Quality and Vegetable Yield—An On-Farm Case Study," Agriculture, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 7(3), pages 1-22, March.
  • Handle: RePEc:gam:jagris:v:7:y:2017:i:3:p:30-:d:93190
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    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. Zhang, Guosheng & Zhang, Xiaoxi & Hu, Xuebai, 2013. "Runoff and soil erosion as affected by plastic mulch patterns in vegetable field at Dianchi lake's catchment, China," Agricultural Water Management, Elsevier, vol. 122(C), pages 20-27.
    2. Rodriguez, Hector German & Popp, Jennie & Gbur, Edward & Chaubey, Indrajeet, 2011. "Environmental and economic impacts of reducing total phosphorous runoff in an agricultural watershed," Agricultural Systems, Elsevier, vol. 104(8), pages 623-633, October.
    3. Hollinger, E. & Cornish, P. S. & Baginska, B. & Mann, R. & Kuczera, G., 2001. "Farm-scale stormwater losses of sediment and nutrients from a market garden near Sydney, Australia," Agricultural Water Management, Elsevier, vol. 47(3), pages 227-241, April.
    4. Lisson, S.N. & Cotching, W.E., 2011. "Modelling the fate of water and nitrogen in the mixed vegetable farming systems of northern Tasmania, Australia," Agricultural Systems, Elsevier, vol. 104(8), pages 600-608, October.
    5. Cox, James W. & Oliver, Danielle P. & Fleming, Nigel K. & Anderson, Jenny S., 2012. "Off-site transport of nutrients and sediment from three main land-uses in the Mt Lofty Ranges, South Australia," Agricultural Water Management, Elsevier, vol. 106(C), pages 50-59.
    6. Barlow, Kirsten & Nash, David & Turral, Hugh & Grayson, Rodger, 2003. "Phosphorus uptake and release in surface drains," Agricultural Water Management, Elsevier, vol. 63(2), pages 109-123, December.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

    More about this item

    Keywords

    capsicum; zucchini; runoff; nutrients; sediments; GBR;

    JEL classification:

    • Q1 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Agriculture
    • Q10 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Agriculture - - - General
    • Q11 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Agriculture - - - Aggregate Supply and Demand Analysis; Prices
    • Q12 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Agriculture - - - Micro Analysis of Farm Firms, Farm Households, and Farm Input Markets
    • Q13 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Agriculture - - - Agricultural Markets and Marketing; Cooperatives; Agribusiness
    • Q14 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Agriculture - - - Agricultural Finance
    • Q15 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Agriculture - - - Land Ownership and Tenure; Land Reform; Land Use; Irrigation; Agriculture and Environment
    • Q16 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Agriculture - - - R&D; Agricultural Technology; Biofuels; Agricultural Extension Services
    • Q17 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Agriculture - - - Agriculture in International Trade
    • Q18 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Agriculture - - - Agricultural Policy; Food Policy

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