Using side-dressing technique to reduce nitrogen leaching and improve nitrogen recovery efficiency under an irrigated rice system in the upper reaches of Yellow River Basin, Northwest China
The excessive nitrogen (N) fertilizer input coupled with flood irrigation might result in higher N leaching and lower nitrogen recovery efficiency (NRE). Under an intensive rice system in the Ningxia irrigation region, China, environmental friendly N management practices are heavily needed to balance the amount of N input for optimum crop production while minimize the nitrogen loss. The objective of this study was to determine the influences of side-dressing (SD) technique in mechanical transplanting systems on the NRE, N leaching losses and rice yield in anthropogenic-alluvial soil during two rice growing seasons (2010-2011). Four fertilizer N treatments were established, including conventional urea rate (CU, 300 kg ha–1 yr–1); higher SD of controlled-release N fertilizer rate (SD1, 176 kg ha–1 yr–1); lower SD of controlled-release N fertilizer rate (SD2, 125 kg ha–1 yr–1); and control (CK, no N fertilizer). Field lysimeters were used to quantify drainage from undisturbed soil during six rice growing stages. Meanwhile, the temporal variations of total nitrigen (TN), NO3 –-N, and NH4 +-N concentrations in percolation water were examined. The results showed that SD1 substantially improved NRE and reduced N leaching losses while maintaining rice yields. Across two years, the averaged NRE under SD1 treatment increased by 25.5% as relative to CU, but yet the rice yield was similar between two treatments. On average, the nitrogen loss defined as TN, NH4 +-N, and NO3 –-N under the SD1 treatment reduced by 27.4, 37.2 and 24.1%, respectively, when compared with CU during the study periods. Although the SD2 treatment could further reduce N leaching loss to some extent, this technique would sharply decline rice yield, with the magnitude of as high as 21.0% relative to CU treatment. Additionally, the average NRE under SD2 was 11.2% lower than that under SD1 treatment. Overall, the present study concluded that the SD technique is an effective strategy to reduce N leaching and increase NRE, thus potentially mitigate local environmental threat. We propose SD1 as a novel alternative fertilizer technique under an irrigated rice-based system in Ningxia irrigation region when higher yields are under consideration.