Increased stocking rate and associated strategic dry-off decision rules reduced the amount of nitrate-N leached under grazing
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CitationJ.R. Roche, S.F. Ledgard, M.S. Sprosen, S.B. Lindsey, J.W. Penno, B. Horan, K.A. Macdonald, Increased stocking rate and associated strategic dry-off decision rules reduced the amount of nitrate-N leached under grazing, Journal of Dairy Science, Volume 99, Issue 7, 2016, Pages 5916-5925, ISSN 0022-0302, https://doi.org/10.3168/jds.2016-11024.
AbstractThe effect of intensive agricultural systems on the environment is of increasing global concern, and recent review articles have highlighted the need for sustainable intensification of food production. In grazing dairy systems, the leaching of nitrate-N (NO3-N) to groundwater is a primary environmental concern. A herd-level factor considered by many to be a key contributor to the amount of NO3-N leached from dairy pastures is stocking rate (SR), and some countries have imposed limits to reduce the risk of NO3-N loss to groundwater. The objective of the current experiment was to determine the effect of dairy cow SR on NO3-N leached in a grazing system that did not import feed from off-farm and had the same N fertilizer input. Five SR were evaluated (2.2, 2.7, 3.1, 3.7, and 4.3 cows/ha) in a completely randomized design (i.e., 2 replicates of each SR as independent farmlets) over 2 y. Pasture utilization, milk production/hectare, and days in milk/hectare increased with SR, but days in milk/cow and milk production/cow declined. The concentration of NO3-N in drainage water and the quantity of NO3-N leached/ha per year declined linearly with increasing SR, and the operating profit/kg NO3-N leached per ha increased. Higher SR was associated with fewer days in milk/cow, resulting in a reduction in estimated urine N excretion/cow (the main source of N leaching) during the climatically sensitive period for NO3-N leaching (i.e., late summer to winter). We hypothesized that the reduction in estimated urine N excretion per cow led to an increase in urinary N spread and reduced losses from urine patches. The results presented indicate that lowering SR may not reduce nitrate leaching and highlight the need for a full farm system-level analysis of any management change to determine its effect on productivity and environmental outcomes.
FunderDairyNZ Inc. (Hamilton, NZ); the Fertilizer Association of New Zealand (Wellington)
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