Livestock manure driving stream nitrate

Ambio. 2019 Oct;48(10):1143-1153. doi: 10.1007/s13280-018-1137-5. Epub 2018 Dec 19.


Growth and consolidation in the livestock industry in the past 30 years have resulted in more total farm animals being raised on fewer Iowa farms. The effects of this on stream water quality at the landscape scale have largely gone unexplored. The main objective of this work was to quantify the effects on stream nitrate levels of livestock concentration in two western Iowa watersheds relative to seven other nearby watersheds. To achieve this objective, we used data on high-frequency nitrate concentration and stream discharge, commercial nitrogen fertilizer use, and manure-generated nitrogen in each watershed. Our analysis shows much higher stream nitrate in the two watersheds where livestock concentration has been greatest, and little difference in commercial fertilizer inputs with the widespread availability of manure N. Reducing N inputs and better management of manure N, including analysis of crop N availability in soil and manure, can reduce uncertainty regarding fertilization while improving water quality.

Keywords: Commercial fertilizer; Concentrated livestock; Flow weighted average; Manure; Nitrate-nitrogen.

MeSH terms

  • Agriculture
  • Animals
  • Livestock
  • Manure*
  • Nitrates
  • Nitrogen
  • Rivers*


  • Manure
  • Nitrates
  • Nitrogen