Nitrate nitrogen in surface waters as influenced by climatic conditions and agricultural practices

J Environ Qual. 2001 Mar-Apr;30(2):337-44. doi: 10.2134/jeq2001.302337x.


Subsurface tile drainage from row-crop agricultural production systems has been identified as a major source of nitrate entering surface waters in the Mississippi River basin. Noncontrollable factors such as precipitation and mineralization of soil organic matter have a tremendous effect on drainage losses, nitrate concentrations, and nitrate loadings in subsurface drainage water. Cropping system and nutrient management inputs are controllable factors that have a varying influence on nitrate losses. Row crops leak substantially greater amounts of nitrate compared with perennial crops; however, satisfactory economic return with many perennials is an obstacle at present. Improving N management by applying the correct rate of N at the optimum time and giving proper credits to previous legume crops and animal manure applications will also lead to reduced nitrate losses. Nitrate losses have been shown to be minimally affected by tillage systems compared with N management practices. Scientists and policymakers must understand these factors as they develop educational materials and environmental guidelines for reducing nitrate losses to surface waters.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Agriculture*
  • Climate
  • Education
  • Humans
  • Nitrates / analysis*
  • Nitrogen / analysis*
  • Nitrogen / metabolism
  • Plants
  • Water Movements
  • Water Pollution / analysis*
  • Water Pollution / prevention & control*


  • Nitrates
  • Nitrogen