1 Department of Agroecology - Climate and Water, Department of Agroecology, Science and Technology, Aarhus University2 unknown3 Department of Agroecology - Climate and Water, Department of Agroecology, Science and Technology, Aarhus University
Characterizing the dynamics of nitrogen (N) leaching from organic and conventional paddy fields is necessary to optimize fertilization and to evaluate the impact of these contrasting farming systems on water bodies. We assessed N leaching in organic versus conventional rice production systems of the Ili River Valley, a representative aquatic ecosystem of Central Asia. The N leaching and overall performance of these systems were measured during 2009, using a randomized block experiment with five treatments. PVC pipes were installed at soil depths of 50 and 180 cm to collect percolation water from flooded organic and conventional paddies, and inorganic N (NH4-N+NO3-N) was analyzed. Two high-concentration peaks of NH4-N were observed in all treatments: one during early tillering and a second during flowering. A third peak at the mid-tillering stage was observed only under conventional fertilization. NO3-N concentrations were highest at transplant and then declined until harvest. At the 50 cm soil depth, NO3-N concentration was 21–42% higher than NH4-N in percolation water from organic paddies, while NH4-N and NO3-N concentrations were similar for the conventional and control treatments. At the depth of 180 cm, NH4-N and NO3-N were the predominant inorganic N for organic and conventional paddies, respectively. Inorganic N concentrations decreased with soil depth, but this attenuation was more marked in organic than in conventional paddies. Conventional paddies leached a higher percentage of applied N (0.78%) than did organic treatments (0.32–0.60%), but the two farming systems leached a similar amount of inorganic N per unit yield (0.21–0.34 kg N Mg−1 rice grains). Conventional production showed higher N utilization efficiency compared to fertilized organic treatments. These results suggest that organic rice production in the Ili River Valley is unlikely to reduce inorganic N leaching, if high crop yields similar to conventional rice production are to be maintained.