Effects of tillage and application rate on atrazine transport to subsurface drainage: Evaluation of RZWQM using a six-year field study

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Malone, Robert
Nolan, B.
Ma, Liwang
Kanwar, Rameshwar
Pederson, Carl
Heilman, Philip
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Kanwar, Rameshwar
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Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering

Well tested agricultural system models can improve our understanding of the water quality effects of management practices under different conditions. The Root Zone Water Quality Model (RZWQM) has been tested under a variety of conditions. However, the current model's ability to simulate pesticide transport to subsurface drain flow over a long term period under different tillage systems and application rates is not clear. Therefore, we calibrated and tested RZWQM using six years of data from Nashua, Iowa. In this experiment, atrazine was spring applied at 2.8 (1990–1992) and 0.6 kg/ha/yr (1993–1995) to two 0.4 ha plots with different tillage (till and no-till). The observed and simulated average annual flow weighted atrazine concentrations (FWAC) in subsurface drain flow from the no-till plot were 3.7 and 3.2 μg/L, respectively for the period with high atrazine application rates, and 0.8 and 0.9 μg/L, respectively for the period with low application rates. The 1990–1992 observed average annual FWAC difference between the no-till and tilled plot was 2.4 μg/L while the simulated difference was 2.1 μg/L. These observed and simulated differences for 1993–1995 were 0.1 and 0.1 μg/L, respectively. The Nash–Sutcliffe model performance statistic (EF) for cumulative atrazine flux to subsurface drain flow was 0.93 for the no-till plot testing years (1993–1995), which is comparable to other recent model tests. The value of EF is 1.0 when simulated data perfectly match observed data. The order of selected parameter sensitivity for RZWQM simulated FWAC was atrazine partition coefficient > number of macropores > atrazine half life in soil > soil hydraulic conductivity. Simulations from 1990 to 1995 with four different atrazine application rates applied at a constant rate throughout the simulation period showed concentrations in drain flow for the no-till plot to be twice those of the tilled plot. The differences were more pronounced in the early simulation period (1990–1992), partly because of the characteristics of macropore flow during large storms. The results suggest that RZWQM is a promising tool to study pesticide transport to subsurface drain flow under different tillage systems and application rates over several years, the concentrations of atrazine in drain flow can be higher with no-till than tilled soil over a range of atrazine application rates, and atrazine concentrations in drain flow are sensitive to the macropore flow characteristics under different tillage systems and rainfall timing and intensity.


This article is from Agricultural Water Management 132 (2014): 10–22, doi:10.1016/j.agwat.2013.09.009.