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Suggested Citation:"Appendix." National Research Council. 1993. Soil and Water Quality: An Agenda for Agriculture. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/2132.
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APPENDIX

Suggested Citation:"Appendix." National Research Council. 1993. Soil and Water Quality: An Agenda for Agriculture. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/2132.
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Suggested Citation:"Appendix." National Research Council. 1993. Soil and Water Quality: An Agenda for Agriculture. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/2132.
×

Nitrogen and Phosphorus Mass Balances: Methods and Interpretation

The flux of nutrients through an agroecosystem is an important determinant of the productivity of the farming system and the potential for water pollution from losses of nitrogen and phosphorus. Mass balances can be used to assess the transformations and transfers that occur in and between components of the farming system and to assess the efficiencies of nutrient use in the system. Often such assessments point out where further study or quantification of transformations or transfers is needed.

In most natural ecosystems, nutrient inputs and outputs are limited and most nutrients are cycled and recycled through the system. External inputs and overall exports or losses are minimal, and inputs and outputs remain in relative balance. In modern agricultural systems, however, the amount of external inputs, such as fertilizer, added to the system is very large to enable large outputs of the crops that are harvested for food and fiber.

Nutrient budgets and mass balances have been approached on various scales, ranging from experimental plots to estimates of global balances (i.e., Follett et al., 1987; Hauck and Tanji, 1982; Meisinger and Randall, 1991; Power, 1981; Thomas and Gilliam, 1978). Nutrient budgets can be approached at various levels of detail and with varying degrees of completeness. Some budgets even attempt to characterize the inputs, storage, and processing by insects and soil and plant microbiota (Stinner et al., 1984).

The general form of a nutrient budget can be viewed, in simple fashion, as a simple equation: the nutrient inputs to the ecosystem minus

Suggested Citation:"Appendix." National Research Council. 1993. Soil and Water Quality: An Agenda for Agriculture. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/2132.
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the nutrient outputs must equal the change in nutrient storage within the ecosystem. This is deceptively simple because quantifying all of the inputs and outputs is difficult, and even defining the "system" in space and time is problematic. Simplifying assumptions and partial budgets still provide important insights, depending on how the balances are to be used. Partial nutrient balances are used, though often only implicitly, in establishing nutrient-crop yield response models and fertilizer recommendations for crop producers.

In farming systems, nutrient budgets can be used to review the balance of major inputs and outputs to assess where the opportunities lie for improvements in efficiency. Although the nature and amount of nutrient inputs and outputs vary among farming systems, regions, and even among fields, the mass balance concept provides a framework that can be applied systematically across a diversity of farming systems, as the field and farm scale balances discussed in Chapters 6 and 7 illustrate. The point of presenting partial balances here is to illustrate that this approach can be used even at the state and regional levels, as part of the analysis of farming systems, to guide program development and targeting to improve input use efficiency.

As summarized by Meisinger and Randall (1991), agricultural watersheds with the largest nitrate losses are associated with excess nitrogen inputs—that is, fertilizer, manure, and legume nitrogen inputs greatly exceed the nitrogen that is taken up by the crop. As Meisinger and Randall (1991:85) note: "These are also the sites where improved N[nitrogen]-management practices will have the greatest chance of improving groundwater quality."

ESTIMATION OF STATE, REGIONAL, AND NATIONAL BUDGETS

The committee did not attempt to estimate complete mass balances of the nitrogen and phosphorus flux in U.S. agriculture. The committee's intent was to present a partial balance for harvested cropland, focusing on the manageable nitrogen and phosphorus inputs and the resulting outputs of nitrogen and phosphorus in the harvested crops. The purpose of the committee's estimates is to illustrate (1) the opportunities that are available for improving the efficiency with which nitrogen and phosphorus are used in farming systems and (2) large-scale approaches that can be used to target and evaluate programs to improve nutrient use efficiencies across a diversity of farming systems.

The committee's estimates do not include inputs or outputs from range-or pastureland or various set-aside or idled lands. Hence, these partial balances take on a different formula than the general form

Suggested Citation:"Appendix." National Research Council. 1993. Soil and Water Quality: An Agenda for Agriculture. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/2132.
×

presented above: major inputs of nitrogen and phosphorus to croplands minus the major outputs of nitrogen and phosphorus in harvested crops equals the balance or residual nitrogen and phosphorus. The balance, therefore, is an estimate of the amount of the nitrogen and phosphorus inputs that cannot be accounted for in the harvested crops. These nitrogen and phosphorus balances may represent (1) storage in the soil or (2) losses from the farming system into the environment. The magnitude of the balance, and the relative magnitude of the inputs, provide insights into the opportunities to improve the management of nutrients.

Data Used

The committee estimated nitrogen and phosphorus balances for 1987 using data on crop and livestock production from the latest available Census of Agriculture (U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, 1989). The other primary data source was total fertilizer nutrient data by state, compiled by the Tennessee Valley Authority, National Fertilizer Research Center (Hargett and Berry, 1988). In perspective, 1987 is probably a representative, and perhaps a conservative year for calculating nutrient balances. Fertilizer use was down from peak usage and crop acreage for some commodities was below-average because of annual set-asides. Enrollment of cropland into the Conservation Reserve Program was just expanding, and while 1987 was the beginning of a drought period in the midwest, crop yields were still above-average in the midwest and nationally. The methods used to estimate nutrient inputs and outputs are outlined below.

Estimation of Inputs

The nitrogen and phosphorus inputs estimated by the committee include only the major, primary inputs of nutrients to cropland including the nitrogen and phosphorus in commercial fertilizer, the nitrogen and phosphorus in manure, dinitrogen fixation of nitrogen (and/or nitrogen accumulation) by legumes, and the nitrogen and phosphorus content of crop residues. Estimates of inputs were limited to primary sources since these nitrogen and phosphorus inputs can be directly affected by management and since it was desirable to limit the amount of computation required.

There are other input sources, such as nutrients in precipitation and dry deposition, crop seed, foliar absorption, and nonsymbiotic fixation of nitrogen. These are minor or secondary inputs and they are not

Suggested Citation:"Appendix." National Research Council. 1993. Soil and Water Quality: An Agenda for Agriculture. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/2132.
×

typically manageable, seldom measured, and are explicitly ignored in most studies and management systems. There are two other inputs that are important but highly variable, spatially and temporally. The nitrogen in irrigation water, generally available as nitrate, can be an important management consideration locally (see Chapter 6, and Schepers and Mosier, 1991). It was not possible to characterize irrigation water nitrogen inputs for this analysis. Other important inputs are the nitrogen and phosphorus contributed from mineralization from the soil. Although important, this factor is difficult to estimate at the scale of this analysis and has become a relatively small component in many farming systems. Of greater importance, given the need to manage the annual variability of nutrient availability to improve efficiencies, is an assessment of the nutrients available from mineralization plus the nutrients available as residual from inputs in previous years. The nutrients in the balance unaccounted for in the harvested crop (output term) may carry over as inputs in following crop years. The buildup of soil test phosphorus levels, presented in Chapter 7, is an example of the accumulation of phosphorus in the farming system from this balance term over time.

Fertilizer Nutrients

Estimates of fertilizer inputs are the most reliable of the estimates of inputs and outputs calculated for nitrogen and phosphorus balances. The nutrient inputs from commercial fertilizers were estimated directly from the sales and tonnage records of state agricultural agencies compiled by the Tennessee Valley Authority, National Fertilizer Research Center (Hargett and Berry, 1988, and unpublished data). These data were provided to the committee by the U.S. Geological Survey and had been adjusted for estimates of sales that crossed county and state lines (Fletcher, 1991: personal communication). The values in the adjusted data set generally vary by less than 2 percent from the unadjusted Tennessee Valley Authority compilations.

Manure Nutrients

The amount of nitrogen and phosphorus in manure applied to cropland was estimated using standard assumptions and values for the nitrogen and phosphorus content of livestock manures developed by the American Society of Agricultural Engineers (see Chapter 11, and American Society of Agricultural Engineers, 1988; Midwest Planning Service, 1985). First, the total amount of nitrogen and phosphorus voided by livestock was estimated by using the following calculation:

Suggested Citation:"Appendix." National Research Council. 1993. Soil and Water Quality: An Agenda for Agriculture. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/2132.
×

TABLE A-1 Factors Used to Estimate Total Nitrogen and Phosphorus Voided in Manures

 

 

Nutrient Production (kg/day/454-kg animal)

 

 

Farm Animal

Ratio of Animals Sold/Breeding Herd

Nitrogen

Phosphorus

Mean Animal Size (kg)

Production Period (days)

Livestock

Beef cattle

1/1

0.15

0.042

363

180

Dairy cattle

NA

0.20

0.043

635

365

Hogs and pigs

10/1

0.24

0.082

61

90

Sheep and lambs

5/1

0.19

0.039

27

365

Poultry

Broilers and meat chickens

NA

0.50

0.136

0.9

42

Hens and pullets

NA

0.38

0.136

1.8

365

Turkeys

NA

0.28

0.104

6.8

72

NOTE: NA, not applicable.

(total number of animals) * (estimated average weight of the livestock or poultry species/454 kg [1,000 lbs]) * (production, or residence period of the livestock or poultry species, in days) * (kg of nitrogen or phosphorus voided/day/454 kg of animal weight).

The factors used to estimate the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus voided in manures are given in Table A-1.

The production period for dairy cattle and hens or pullets was assumed to be 365 days, and the year-end inventory data in the 1987 Census of Agriculture were used to estimate the number of dairy cattle and hens or pullets that were present during 1987. Annual sales data for beef cattle, swine, sheep, and poultry were used rather than inventory numbers. The sales data were adjusted using standard ratios of breeding stock to sales for animal numbers; and standard estimates of the number of days in production were used to estimate the number of beef cattle, swine, and sheep that were present in 1987.

Not all manure voided by livestock and poultry are economically recoverable for application to croplands. Manure voided on pasture or rangeland, for example, cannot be collected for use. The committee included estimates of the nitrogen and phosphorus in only those manures that are collectable and recoverable. The proportion of the total nitrogen and phosphorus voided in manures that can be economically recovered varies depending on collection, storage, and application methods. Therefore, the manure nutrient production of each state was adjusted by

Suggested Citation:"Appendix." National Research Council. 1993. Soil and Water Quality: An Agenda for Agriculture. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/2132.
×

TABLE A-2 Nitrogen Voided in Recoverable Manures

State

Percent Recoverable Manure-N

State

Percent Recoverable Manure-N

Alabama

34

Nebraska

31

Alaska

0

Nevada

14

Arizona

40

New Hampshire

50

Arkansas

41

New Jersey

57

California

36

New Mexico

22

Colorado

35

New York

64

Connecticut

57

North Carolina

39

Delaware

50

North Dakota

22

Florida

21

Ohio

40

Georgia

37

Oklahoma

17

Hawaii

17

Oregon

23

Idaho

31

Pennsylvania

57

Illinois

32

Rhode Island

0

Indiana

33

South Carolina

24

Iowa

32

South Dakota

26

Kansas

33

Tennessee

27

Kentucky

28

Texas

25

Louisiana

18

Utah

32

Maine

69

Vermont

67

Maryland

65

Virginia

36

Massachusetts

67

Washington

33

Michigan

49

West Virginia

33

Minnesota

43

Wisconsin

57

Mississippi

26

Wyoming

20

Missouri

26

 

 

Montana

15

United States

34

 

SOURCE: D. L. Van Dyne and C. B. Gilbertson. 1978. Estimating U.S. Livestock and Poultry Manure Production. Report ESCS-12. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economics, Statistics, and Cooperative Service.

estimates of the proportion of manure that is recoverable for cropland use, and for nitrogen the value was further reduced for storage and handling losses. The state totals were derived from the analysis of Van Dyne and Gilbertson (1978) and are given in Tables A-2 and A-3. Only about one-third of the total nitrogen voided in manures was estimated as recoverable, while about one-half of the total phosphorus voided in manures was estimated as recoverable. Though developed in the 1970s, Van Dyne and Gilbertson's review is the most thorough of its kind, and the basic assumptions have not changed. Using their 1978 values for recoverable manure provided a conservative estimate for 1987 because livestock production had, by then, generally become more concentrated,

Suggested Citation:"Appendix." National Research Council. 1993. Soil and Water Quality: An Agenda for Agriculture. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/2132.
×

TABLE A-3 Phosphorus Voided in Recoverable Manures

State

Percent Recoverable Manure-P

State

Percent Recoverable Manure-P

Alabama

45

Nebraska

46

Alaska

0

Nevada

25

Arizona

45

New Hampshire

100

Arkansas

54

New Jersey

50

California

54

New Mexico

30

Colorado

42

New York

87

Connecticut

100

North Carolina

61

Delaware

100

North Dakota

25

Florida

33

Ohio

64

Georgia

57

Oklahoma

19

Hawaii

50

Oregon

27

Idaho

42

Pennsylvania

79

Illinois

57

Rhode Island

0

Indiana

58

South Carolina

43

Iowa

56

South Dakota

36

Kansas

48

Tennessee

35

Kentucky

38

Texas

31

Louisiana

20

Utah

43

Maine

100

Vermont

100

Maryland

83

Virginia

47

Massachusetts

100

Washington

44

Michigan

69

West Virginia

50

Minnesota

64

Wisconsin

81

Mississippi

39

Wyoming

27

Missouri

42

 

 

Montana

20

United States

49

 

SOURCE: D. L. Van Dyne and C. B. Gilbertson. 1978. Estimating U.S. Livestock and Poultry Manure Production. Report ESCS-12. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economics, Statistics, and Cooperative Service.

with more cattle and swine in confinement operations and less on pasture and range. Hence, a greater proportion of manure would have been collectable in 1987 than in 1974.

Legume Nitrogen

The importance of symbiotic dinitrogen fixation has been known, and that knowledge used to enhance crop production, since ancient times. Yet estimates of rates of fixation by legumes (legume-N) vary widely, depending on the species, the age, density, and vigor of the crop, the amount of nitrogen in the soil, and the number of years the legume

Suggested Citation:"Appendix." National Research Council. 1993. Soil and Water Quality: An Agenda for Agriculture. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/2132.
×

TABLE A-4 Estimates of Nitrogen Fixation by Legumes

 

Nitrogen Fixation Rate (kg/ha/yr)

Legume

Low Estimate

High Estimate

Alfalfa

70

600

Soybeans

15

310

Midwest

55

95

Southeast

70

220

Dry Beans

2

215

Peanuts

40

60

Cowpeas

80

100

Chickpeas

25

80

Clover (various)

100

200

Sweet Clover

4

130

Fava Bean

175

200

Lentils

165

190

Lupins

150

215

Peas

55

195

Vetch

90

120

 

SOURCE: Data derived from Evans and Barber, 1977; Follet et al., 1987; Heichel, 1987; Meisinger and Randall, 1991; Peterson and Russelle, 1991; Schepers and Fox, 1989; Schepers and Mosier, 1991; Thurlow and Hiltbold, 1985; Tisdale and Nelson, 1966.

stand remains in the field before being turned under. A summary of estimates for various legumes is given in Table A-4.

The lower values for fixation by perennial legumes given in Table A-4 generally reflect fixation during the first year of growth. The higher values reflect fixation that has occurred in stands of legumes that have been in place for 2 or more years. The estimates given in Table A-4 are estimates of the total fixed legume-N and are greater than values often estimated as available to crops that are planted after the legumes are harvested. The total fixation value, however, includes the amount fixed and taken up in the legume biomass, most of which is subsequently harvested and unavailable to succeeding crops.

Estimates of the amount of nitrogen actually fixed by a particular species of legume are problematic because there are no unequivocal methods for measurement. LaRue and Patterson (1981) summarized published research and concluded there is not a single legume crop for which valid estimates of the nitrogen fixed in agricultural production were available. They did report consistent ranges for some legumes that emerged from various research.

Part of the measurement problem occurs because legumes use nitrogen

Suggested Citation:"Appendix." National Research Council. 1993. Soil and Water Quality: An Agenda for Agriculture. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/2132.
×

in the soil as well as fix nitrogen from the atmosphere. Generally, legumes will fix nitrogen only after taking up much of the nitrogen that is available in the soil (see, e.g., Phillips and DeJong, 1984). In fertile soils, with substantial soil organic matter and soil nitrogen, they will not fix as much as in soils of low fertility. For example, in Table A-4, the different values for fixation by soybeans under midwestern and southeastern conditions reflect the general differences in soils between those regions.

Some studies suggest that some legumes (particularly annual grain legumes) may remove more nitrogen from the soil than they fix and, hence, the legumes may represent a net loss of nitrogen (Schepers and Mosier, 1991; Follett et al., 1987). Although unequivocal estimates of the nitrogen input from symbiotic nitrogen fixation are still open to discussion, crop rotation with legumes consistently produces a yield benefit to the succeeding crop, with reduced nitrogen inputs. This undoubtedly reflects various rotation effects as well as any nitrogen residuals supplied from true fixation or accumulation from other sources.

To minimize environmental losses of nitrogen and to optimize crop yields, some estimate of the legume contribution to crop rotations must be made. To account for the combined effects of rotation and fixation, legume benefits are often estimated as a fertilizer nitrogen replacement value or a fertilizer nitrogen equivalence. Based on consistent results from many experiments throughout the United States, Schepers and Fox (1989) summarize that the fertilizer nitrogen equivalence of a 2- to 4-year old ''good" alfalfa stand is at least 100 to 150 kg/ha for the first succeeding crop and 30 to 50 kg/ha for the second crop; and nitrogen fertilizer applications to crops following soybeans should be reduced by approximately 15 to 17 kg/ha per Mg/ha of soybean yield (∼1 lb/acre/bu soybeans).

In the committee's estimates of nitrogen balances, the input values for legume-N are balanced by estimates of the output of nitrogen in harvested alfalfa and soybean crops. The result is an estimate of the total nitrogen that may accumulate and remain as a nitrogen replacement value. In some cases, this replacement value may also reflect rotation benefits other than legume-N.

Another problem in estimating the nitrogen supplied by legumes is that some legume-N, particularly from perennial forages such as alfalfa, may be available for succeeding crops several years after the forage crop is harvested and plowed down. For the first crop year the nitrogen replacement value of the legume may equal 150 to 200 kg/ha. Calculated over a 2-to 5-year period following plow down, some estimates of the nitrogen replacement value range as high as 450 kg/ha (Peterson and Russelle, 1991; Schepers and Mosier, 1991). The committee used only estimates of the hectares of alfalfa hay and soybeans harvested in 1987 and the tons of

Suggested Citation:"Appendix." National Research Council. 1993. Soil and Water Quality: An Agenda for Agriculture. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/2132.
×

TABLE A-5 Estimated Rates of Nitrogen Accumulation and Nitrogen Replacement Value for Alfalfa and Soybeans in Low-, Medium-, and High-Fixation Scenarios

Legume

Estimate Scenario

Total Nitrogen Fixed (kg/ha)

Nitrogen Harvesteda (kg/ha)

Nitrogen Replacement Valueb (kg/ha)

Alfalfa

Low

230

185

45

Medium

250

185

65

High

380

185

195

Soybean

Low

175

165

10

Medium

200

165

35

High

220

165

55

a Includes nitrogen in the harvested portion of the legume and in crop residue.

b Includes the amount of fixed nitrogen available to a succeeding crop and the reduced need for supplemental nitrogen that may be a result of rotation effects.

alfalfa hay or soybeans harvested in 1987 to estimate a replacement value for legume-N in 1987. Alfalfa and soybeans are the two major legume crops, but many others (see Table A-4) also contribute nitrogen inputs. Alfalfa and other legumes grown in pasture were not considered in the committee's estimates. Data on the land area planted to legumes and their yields were derived from the 1987 Census of Agriculture.

Because of the uncertainty in estimates of fixation and nitrogen replacement value, the committee generated three scenarios using a low, medium, and high estimate of the nitrogen supplied by alfalfa and soybeans in 1987. The input value used was considered to be an estimate of total fixation and accumulation of nitrogen by these legumes. The amounts of nitrogen harvested in alfalfa hay and in soybean grain and residues were entered on the output side of the balance. The difference between the total alfalfa or soybean nitrogen input and the alfalfa or soybean nitrogen output was used as an estimate of the residual nitrogen replacement value potentially available to a succeeding crop. The magnitude of the estimates of this nitrogen replacement value was compared to standard estimates of the nitrogen replacement value of alfalfa and soybeans derived from other research. The nitrogen fixation rates, estimates of nitrogen harvested in alfalfa hay and soybeans, and the resulting replacement values used in the committee's estimates of nitrogen balances are summarized on a per-hectare basis in Table A-5.

The fixation values used in the committee's estimates agree well with those used by other scientists. The medium nitrogen fixation value for alfalfa (250 kg/ha/yr) is approximately the same as that used by Peterson and Russelle (1991) (252 kg/ha/yr). The maximum value (380 kg/ha/yr)

Suggested Citation:"Appendix." National Research Council. 1993. Soil and Water Quality: An Agenda for Agriculture. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/2132.
×

results in an estimated replacement value to a subsequent grain crop of 195 kg/ha, slightly higher than the ranges suggested by Schepers and Fox (1989). However, only about 30 percent of alfalfa acres are typically rotated to another crop in most years. The low value for alfalfa nitrogen fixation produces an estimated resultant value for the total alfalfa hectares harvested in 1987 that approximates the replacement value expected if 30 percent of the alfalfa acres in 1987 were rotated to another crop in 1988.

For soybeans, the estimates of fixation rates and harvest values used result in nitrogen replacement values equivalent to 5, 16, and 25 kg/ha/yr per Mg/ha of soybeans harvested (or about 0.3, 0.9, and 1.5 lb/acre/per bu soybeans). The replacement values, which are of most interest here, are in line with most recent estimates (see Meisinger and Randall, 1991; Schepers and Mosier, 1991; Schepers and Fox, 1989), with the medium to low estimates providing the best estimates for an annual balance.

Crop Residues

Crop residues are the mass of plant matter that remains in the field after harvest. The committee estimated the volume of crop residues using published estimates of the amount (ratio) of residue produced related to the amount of harvested grain (Larson et al., 1978). The phosphorus and nitrogen content of crop residues was derived from the United States-Canadian Tables of Feed Composition (National Research Council, 1982). The nitrogen content of residues was calculated assuming crude protein as 16 percent nitrogen. The grain-to-residue ratios used to estimate crop residue values the percentages of nitrogen and phosphorus in residues are given in Table A-6. (Crop residues are further discussed below).

In an operational system, to use such balances for analysis, the legume residual from one year would become the input term for the next: that is, to assess opportunities for improved input management for 1987, the legume residual for 1986 should actually be used. In the committee's illustrative analysis, the 1987 legume residuals are used, for simplicity, but this also provides a conservative estimate; the area of soybeans and alfalfa was greater in 1986 than 1987, while the yields were greater in 1987.

Estimation of Outputs

Only the primary desirable nutrient outputs were estimated by the committee, that is, the nitrogen and phosphorus taken up in the harvested crops and in crop residues. Other outputs include undesirable losses into the environment through ammonia volatilization, denitrification, soil erosion and runoff losses, and leaching losses. As discussed

Suggested Citation:"Appendix." National Research Council. 1993. Soil and Water Quality: An Agenda for Agriculture. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/2132.
×

TABLE A-6 Factors Used to Estimate Nitrogen and Phosphorus in Crop Residues

Crop

Ratio of Residue to Grain

Percent in Nitrogen Residue

Percent in Phosphorus Residue

Alfalfa haya

NA

NA

NA

Barley

1.5

0.64

0.09

Corn

1.0

0.89

0.09

Cotton

1.0

0.59

0.05

Dry beansb

1.5

0.73

0.05

Haya

NA

NA

NA

Oats

2.0

0.65

0.06

Peanutsc

0.14

1.11

0.14

Potatoesc

0.15

0.37

0.03

Rice

1.5

0.48

0.07

Sorghum

1.0

0.74

0.12

Soybeans

1.5

0.74

0.05

Tobaccoa

NA

NA

NA

Wheat

1.7

0.51

0.04

NOTE: Conversion factor coefficients for bushels, bales, and hundredweight were obtained from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (1988). NA, not applicable.

a Total plant harvest was assumed for alfalfa hay, hay, and tobacco.

b The soybean residue/grain rate was used to estimate dry edible bean residue.

c The peanut and potato ratio of residue to grain were obtained from J. W. Gilliam, North Carolina State University, personal communication, 1991.

above, the committee made no attempt to estimate the magnitude of these losses. The unaccounted for balance includes both storage and undesired losses that may be subject to improved management.

Other nutrient outputs from farming systems may include other gaseous losses such as N2O evolution during nitrification, decomposition of nitrous acid, or losses directly from maturing or senescent crops (see Bremner et al., 1981; Meisinger and Randall, 1991; Nelson, 1982). Some nutrients are taken up by weeds or immobilized by microbes and enter the storage pool. These outputs are small relative to other outputs and typically have been implicitly included in nutrient-crop yield response models.

Harvested Crops

The desired nutrient output from an agricultural ecosystem is the nutrient taken up in the harvested crop. The nitrogen and phosphorus

Suggested Citation:"Appendix." National Research Council. 1993. Soil and Water Quality: An Agenda for Agriculture. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/2132.
×

TABLE A-7 Nitrogen and Phosphorus Content of Harvested Crops

Crop

Percent Nitrogen

Percent Phosphorus

Alfalfa hay

2.8

0.17

Barley

1.9

0.34

Corn

1.5

0.26

Cotton

1.6

0.11

Dry beansa

3.6

0.52

Hayb

1.9

0.27

Oats

1.9

0.33

Peanuts

4.4

0.30

Potatoes

0.35

0.06

Rice

1.3

0.28

Sorghum

1.8

0.29

Soybeans

6.3

0.60

Tobaccoc

2.7

0.29

Wheat

2.3

0.37

NOTE: Conversion factor coefficients for bushels, bales, and hundredweights were obtained from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (1988).

a Percent nitrogen for navy beans was used for the dry edible bean.

b To estimate percent nitrogen for hay, the average of five crops (Kentucky bluegrass, brome, fescue, oats [sun-cured hay], and timothy hay) was used.

c Percent nitrogen for tobacco was obtained from J. S. Schepers and R. H. Fox. 1989. Estimation of N budgets for crops. Pp. 221-246 in Nitrogen Management and Ground Water Protection, R. F. Follett, ed. Developments in Agricultural and Managed-Forest Ecology 21. Amsterdam: Elsevier.

in the harvested portion of the crop are effectively removed from the farming system, unless they are fed to livestock. Estimates of the yield of harvested crops in the 1987 Census of Agriculture were used by the committee to estimate phosphorus and nitrogen outputs. The phosphorus and nitrogen content of the harvested crops was derived from the United States-Canadian Tables of Feed Composition (National Research Council, 1982); nitrogen was calculated assuming crude protein as 16 percent nitrogen. The estimates of the nitrogen and phosphorus content of the harvested crops used to estimate nutrient outputs are given in Table A-7.

Only the crops listed in Table A-7 were considered by the committee in estimating outputs of nitrogen and phosphorus from croplands. Analysis of national production statistics for all crops show that the

Suggested Citation:"Appendix." National Research Council. 1993. Soil and Water Quality: An Agenda for Agriculture. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/2132.
×

crops included here account for approximately 90 percent of the total mass of harvested crops and more than 97 percent of the harvested nitrogen and phosphorus.

Crop Residues

The nitrogen and phosphorus in crop residues were estimated as described above. For the committee's purposes, crop residues were considered as both inputs and outputs and hence offset each other in the calculation of balances. In reality, however, residues from the previous year should be estimated as the input and the residues of the current year in the output term. Over time, however, most of the residues remain in the system and the nitrogen and phosphorus in those residues would appear alternately as inputs and outputs. Crop residues are often not counted as inputs in cropland balances.

Estimation of Balances

The committee's estimates, as discussed earlier, are partial nutrient balances for harvested cropland. The balance, or residual term represents an estimate of the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus inputs that (1) may go into storage or (2) may potentially be lost from the system (outputs) into the environment. The magnitude of the balance, then, provides insights into the potential for water pollution that may be created by nutrient fluxes through farming systems aggregated at the state, regional, and national levels. The magnitude of the balance and the relative importance of various inputs also provide insights into the opportunities to improve the management of nitrogen and phosphorus. These implications and opportunities are discussed in more detail in other portions of the report, as are comparisons with prior published balances (see Chapters 2, 3, 6, and 7). A summary of the committee's balance estimates is given in Table A-8.

BALANCE ESTIMATES IN PERSPECTIVE

The methods and values chosen for any nutrient balance, at the scale of this analysis, are clearly equivocal and subject to error. Despite the assumptions the committee was forced to make to estimate nitrogen and phosphorus balances, the committee's estimates are similar to other past published budgets (see Chapter 6). For the most part, the choices of methods and values made by the committee would be expected to produce a conservative estimate of the unaccounted for balance of

Suggested Citation:"Appendix." National Research Council. 1993. Soil and Water Quality: An Agenda for Agriculture. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/2132.
×

TABLE A-8 Inputs and Outputs of Nitrogen and Phosphorus on Croplands in the United States, 1987

 

Nitrogen

 

 

Low Scenario

Medium Scenario

High Scenario

Phosphorus

Inputs and Outputs

Metric Tons

Percent of Total Inputsa

Metric Tons

Percent of Total Inputs

Metric Tons

Percent of Total Inputs

Metric Tons

Percent of Total Inputs

Inputs

Fertilizer

9,390,000

47

9,390,000

45

9,390,000

42

3,570,000

79

Manure

1,730,000

9

1,730,000

8

1,730,000

8

655,000

15

Legumes

6,120,000

30

6,870,000

33

8,560,000

38

NA

NA

Crop residues

2,890,000

14

2,890,000

14

2,890,000

13

272,000

6

Total

20,100,000

100

20,900,000

100

22,600,000

100

4,500,000

100

Outputs

Harvested crops

10,600,000

53

10,600,000

51

10,600,000

47

1,320,000

29

Crop residues

2,890,000

14

2,890,000

14

2,890,000

13

272,000

6

Total

13,500,000

67

13,500,000

64

13,500,000

60

1,600,000

36

Balance

6,670,000

33

7,420,000

36

9,110,000

40

2,900,000

63

NOTE: NA, not applicable.

a Input or output as a percent of the total mass of inputs.

Suggested Citation:"Appendix." National Research Council. 1993. Soil and Water Quality: An Agenda for Agriculture. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/2132.
×

nitrogen and phosphorus. Some perspectives on the effect of the assumptions the committee made are worthy of review.

Although data for only 1 year were used, as noted, 1987 appears to have been representative for the committee's purposes. It would be better, of course, if annual data on inputs and outputs were used to account for year-to-year variation in the crops planted, inputs used, and crop yields. The estimate of balances over time would be a particularly useful way to assess progress in improving input use efficiency and would be particularly useful since crop outputs can vary tremendously from year to year. Also, some inputs and outputs are not in steady state and should be factored over a period of years. Some of the nitrogen fixed by legumes, for example, is available for more than 1 year. Also, the nitrogen in manures is released over time, and multiyear decay constants are sometimes used to estimate the annual contribution of nutrients from manures (Schepers and Mosier, 1991). The committee's estimates of inputs are probably low, particularly the estimates for phosphorus and the estimates in the low and medium nitrogen scenarios, since no effort was made to account for the multiyear contributions or buildup of nitrogen and phosphorus over time.

Standard assumptions were used by the committee to estimate nitrogen and phosphorus inputs from manures. Some of the manure produced undoubtedly would have been applied to pastures and other land, resulting in an overestimate of that applied to cropland. As discussed, however, the values used to estimate recoverable manure were conservative; they were derived for 1970s conditions, and by 1987 livestock production had become more concentrated, with more cattle and swine in confinement operations and less on pasture and range. Hence, a greater proportion of manure would be collectable in 1987 than 1974.

Given the uncertainties for legume-N inputs, the assumptions made by the committee have been conservative. On the input side, only estimates for accumulation/fixation by alfalfa and soybeans were used. However, on the output side of this balance, the nitrogen harvested in other important legumes is included, notably dry beans and peanuts (Table A-6). Legumes account for more than 35 percent of the total nitrogen harvested in crops. Balances estimated on a crop-by-crop basis, then, would result in much higher ratios of inputs to outputs for some crops than is estimated by aggregating all crops together by state, region, or for the United States as a whole. The committee, however, did not estimate the nitrogen and phosphorus harvested in citrus and vegetables, undoubtedly resulting in too low an output value for some states, such as California, Florida, and Texas.

Suggested Citation:"Appendix." National Research Council. 1993. Soil and Water Quality: An Agenda for Agriculture. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/2132.
×

The most important factor leading to conservative estimates of the difference between inputs and outputs was the committee's decision not to correct estimates of the harvested crop for moisture content. The committee did not correct for moisture content because of uncertainties in how the yields of several crops were reported. Correcting for the moisture contents of harvested crops would reduce the harvested nutrient output by about 15 percent on average across the crops considered.

IMPLICATIONS OF BALANCES

Even with the relatively conservative assumptions used, subtracting harvested crop outputs from inputs results in a residual balance equal to more than 60 percent of the phosphorus inputs and from 33 (low scenario) to 40 percent (high scenario) of the nitrogen inputs. The proportion of the residual nitrogen balance contributed by legumes was about 6, 9, and 16 percent less than that of the low, medium, and high scenarios, respectively.

Although the nutrient balance after harvest may go into storage or environmental losses, as discussed in Chapters 6 and 7, many studies have indicated that the magnitude of such balances are directly related to the magnitude of environmental losses. Phosphorus is relatively immobile and may build up in the soil over time, and the concentrations in the surface soil, in particular, are directly related to runoff losses. Nitrogen is much more mobile in the environment, and few farming systems show any increase in soil nitrogen over time, even where large balances are found.

There are several facets of the nitrogen budget and balances that need further discussion. As many large-scale and multicrop nitrogen balances would note, the nitrogen removed in the harvested crop is slightly more than the fertilizer nitrogen input. However, more than 35 percent of the total nitrogen in harvested crops is accounted for by legumes, which receive very little nitrogen fertilizer. Major commodities such as corn, cotton, potatoes, rice, and wheat account for more than 80 percent of the nitrogen applied in fertilizers, but the nitrogen harvested with these crops accounts for only 57 percent of the fertilizer nitrogen input. If all legume inputs and outputs are taken out of the estimated balances, the nitrogen harvested in the remaining crops is only about 35 to 40 percent of the nitrogen fertilizer and manure inputs. Nutrient balances constructed on a crop-by-crop basis, and analysis by input category can provide important guidance to programs seeking to improve the efficiency of nutrient use in farming systems.

Suggested Citation:"Appendix." National Research Council. 1993. Soil and Water Quality: An Agenda for Agriculture. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/2132.
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How can the United States meet demands for agricultural production while solving the broader range of environmental problems attributed to farming practices? National policymakers who try to answer this question confront difficult trade-offs.

This book offers four specific strategies that can serve as the basis for a national policy to protect soil and water quality while maintaining U.S. agricultural productivity and competitiveness. Timely and comprehensive, the volume has important implications for the Clean Air Act and the 1995 farm bill.

Advocating a systems approach, the committee recommends specific farm practices and new approaches to prevention of soil degradation and water pollution for environmental agencies.

The volume details methods of evaluating soil management systems and offers a wealth of information on improved management of nitrogen, phosphorus, manure, pesticides, sediments, salt, and trace elements. Landscape analysis of nonpoint source pollution is also detailed.

Drawing together research findings, survey results, and case examples, the volume will be of interest to federal, state, and local policymakers; state and local environmental and agricultural officials and other environmental and agricultural specialists; scientists involved in soil and water issues; researchers; and agricultural producers.

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