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Use of vegetative furrows to mitigate copper loads and soil loss in runoff from polyethylene (plastic) mulch vegetable production systems

Rice, Pamela J., Harman-Fetcho, Jennifer A., Teasdale, John R., Sadeghi, Ali M., McConnell, Laura L., Coffman, C. Benjamin, Herbert, Rachel R., Heighton, Lynne P., Hapeman, Cathleen J.
Environmental toxicology and chemistry 2004 v.23 no.3 pp. 719
copper, agricultural runoff, furrows, pollution load, plastic film mulches, vegetables, water erosion, polyethylene, sediment yield, fungicides, Secale cereale, environmental impact, pollution control, agricultural management, particulates, tomatoes, crop yield, cover crops, rye, Maryland
The transport of runoff with high copper concentrations and sediment loads into adjacent surface waters can have adverse effects on nontarget organisms as a result of increased turbidity and degraded water quality. Runoff from vegetable production utilizing polyethylene mulch can contain up to 35% of applied copper, a widely used fungicide/bactericide that has adverse effects on aquatic organisms. Copper is primarily transported in runoff with suspended particulates; therefore, implementation of management practices that minimize soil erosion will reduce copper loads. Replacing bare-soil furrows with furrows planted in rye (Secale cereale) significantly improved the sustainability of vegetable production with polyethylene mulch and reduced the potential environmental impact of this management practice. Vegetative furrows decreased runoff volume by >40% and soil erosion by >80%. Copper loads with runoff were reduced by 72% in 2001, primarily as a result of reduced soil erosion since more than 88% of the total copper loads were transported in runoff with suspended soil particulates. Tomato yields in both years were similar between the polyethylene mulch plots containing either bare-soil or vegetative furrows. Replacing bare-soil furrows with vegetative furrows greatly reduces the effects of sediments and agrochemicals on sensitive ecosystems while maintaining crop yields.