Reducing nitrate contamination of groundwater using cover crop mixtures and tailoring nitrogen fertilizer

Project Overview

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2013: $14,943.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2015
Grant Recipient: University of Massachusetts
Region: Northeast
State: Massachusetts
Graduate Student:
Faculty Advisor:
Dr. Allen V. Barker
University of Massachusetts

Annual Reports


  • Agronomic: oats, potatoes, rye
  • Vegetables: peas (culinary), radishes (culinary)


  • Crop Production: cover crops, crop rotation, nutrient cycling
  • Production Systems: general crop production

    Proposal abstract:

    Potato is an important crop in the United States and rates fourth among world crops in terms of production. There are over 2700 potato fields in Northeast United States and potato growers often over apply nitrogen fertilizer to ensure against loss of yield. High mobility of nitrate in the soil profile makes it susceptible to leach to the lower soil levels leading to ground water nitrate contamination and environmental concerns. Regardless of costs of fertilizers, nitrate contaminated water causes serious illness for infants and pregnant woman which could not be tolerated by public. Selecting appropriate type of cover crops as nitrogen scavengers along with supplementary nitrogen management can reduce nitrate leaching and water contamination. Traditionally, farmers plant rye or oat in Massachusetts which might not meet nitrogen requirements of succeeding potatoes. The objectives of this study were to 1) Evaluate influence of different cover crop mixtures on minimizing nitrate leachate caused by surplus nitrogen fertilizer application 2) Asses cover crops’ decomposition rate and its synchronization with potato nutrient demands 3) Study nutrient density and tuber yield of potatoes as affected by cover crop mixtures and nitrogen fertilizer. The student will measure nitrate leaching, cover crop decomposition rate, tuber yield and nutrient density of potatoes, and nitrogen use efficiency. The research data obtained from this project will form a basis for recommendations for potato growers in Massachusetts to alleviate nitrate leaching by proper cover crop and nitrogen fertilizer management.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    1. Evaluate efficiency of cover crop mixtures in nitrate leaching reduction in a potato production system.
    2. Assess decomposition rate of cover crop mixtures and determine nitrogen mineralization synchronization between cover crops decomposition and potato’s growth.
    3. Evaluate yield and nutrient density of potatoes as affected by nitrogen fertilizer and cover crops.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.