Nutrient Cycling in Agroecosystems

, Volume 114, Issue 3, pp 277–293 | Cite as

Surface and subsurface N2O losses from dairy cropping systems

  • Jessica Quesnel
  • Andrew C. VanderZaagEmail author
  • Anna Crolla
  • Christopher Kinsley
  • Edward G. Gregorich
  • Claudia Wagner-Riddle
Original Article


Dairy rotations rely on corn silage, which is estimated to have significant nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions. This study examined whether including legumes within rotations can reduce N2O emissions from the soil surface and dissolved in tile-drainage water. Emissions of N2O were measured from the soil surface and in tile drainage. Cropping systems were: corn–corn (CC), corn + cover crop-corn (C + cc), soybean–corn (SC) and alfalfa–alfalfa (AA) on a clay soil. Liquid dairy manure provided 2-year total N inversely related to legume cropping: 310 (CC), 280 (C + cc), 110 (SC), 50 kg N ha−1 (AA). Losses of N2O via tile drainage were 0.1–0.3% of total emissions. Ratios of N2O-N to NO3-N in drainage were at least 63% lower than the IPCC default value (0.0075). Reductions of N2O emissions were only observed from established alfalfa in year 2. Compared to the SC treatment, which had the highest emissions in year 2, the AA treatment had 62% lower surface N2O and 88% lower dissolved N2O flux. Alfalfa had low yield in the first year, which led to high yield-scaled N2O emissions; thus, alfalfa may need to be grown 4 years to achieve a similar average yield scaled emission factor as CC. Silage corn had consistently high yield, averaging 317 kg ha−1 yr−1 for N yield, which was 36% higher than AA. As a result, CC had the lowest N2O emissions scaled by N-yield over the 2 years, averaging 2.6% of N-yield, which was 59% lower than AA on average.


Indirect greenhouse gas emissions Dissolved nitrous oxide Dairy cropping systems Crop rotation Nitrogen fixation Tile drainage Liquid dairy manure 



The project was funded by: (1) Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs, (2) University of Guelph, (3) Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada Abase program, and (4) Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s Agricultural Greenhouse Gases Program. Thanks to Kristina Vasiljevic, Amanda Eliot, Dirk Anderson, Vera Bosak, and Hambaliou Baldé for assistance.

Supplementary material

10705_2019_10004_MOESM1_ESM.docx (14 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 14 kb)


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Copyright information

© Crown 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Agriculture and Agri-Food CanadaOttawaCanada
  2. 2.School of Environmental SciencesUniversity of GuelphGuelphCanada
  3. 3.Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Rural AffairsKemptvilleCanada
  4. 4.Department of Civil EngineeringUniversity of OttawaOttawaCanada

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