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Ecological and economic impacts of different irrigation and fertilization practices: case study of a watershed in the southern Iran

Sheikhzeinoddin, Azar, Esmaeili, Abdoulkarim
Environment, development and sustainability 2017 v.19 no.6 pp. 2499-2515
Soil and Water Assessment Tool model, agricultural land, best management practices, case studies, conservation tillage, corn, crop yield, crops, decision making, economic impact, environmental impact, farmers, fertilizer application, irrigation rates, leaching, net farm income, nitrates, nitrogen, nitrogen content, nitrogen fertilizers, nonpoint source pollution, water quality, watersheds, wheat, Iran
Best management practices, such as conservation tillage, the optimum level of irrigation, fertilization, are frequently used to reduce non-point source pollution from agricultural land and improve water quality. In this study, we used the soil and water assessment tool to model the impacts of different irrigation (adjusted to crop need), cropping and fertilization practices on total nitrogen loss. The economic impacts of these practices on crop net farm income were also evaluated. For this purpose, the model was calibrated through comparing model outputs with observations to ensure reliable hydrologic, crop yield and nitrate leaching simulations. The results showed that by reducing water or fertilizer or combination of both, we can reduce nitrate leaching. For wheat and corn, the best scenario was S1n1 (combination between reduction by 10 % of water and nitrogen fertilizer application, simultaneously) and S2n3 (combination of 20 and 30 % reduction in water and fertilizer application), respectively. These scenarios are both ecologically and economically desirable. Also, decreasing nitrogen fertilization by 50 % for corn would decrease the nitrate pollution from 101.1 to 32.3 kg N ha⁻¹; therefore, this strategy is ecologically desirable but economically unsound. So, there are opportunities for environmental decision makers to encourage farmers to implement these strategies. Also, since the nitrogen leaching cannot decrease without a reduction in net farm income for crops such as corn; hence, the losses of farmers should be compensated.