Lateral spread affects nitrogen leaching from urine patches

The paddocks in APSIM simulations can be used to model experiments with complex geometry as shown in this example from a recently-published paper

Schematic representation of a urine patch and the simpler representation of the complex geometry used in the APSIM modelling. 

Nitrate leaching from urine deposited by grazing animals is a critical constraint for sustainable dairy farming in New Zealand. While considerable progress has been made to understand the fate of nitrogen (N) under urine patches, little consideration has been given to the spread of urinary N beyond the wetted area. In this study, we modelled the lateral spread of nitrogen from the wetted area of a urine patch to the soil outside the patch using a combination of two process-based models (HYDRUS and APSIM). The simulations provided insights on the extent and temporal pattern for the redistribution of N in the soil following a urine deposition and enabled investigating the effect of lateral spread of urinary N on plant growth and N leaching. The APSIM simulation, using an implementation of a dispersion-diffusion function, was tested against experimental data from a field experiment conducted in spring on a well-drained soil. Depending on the geometry considered for the dispersion-diffusion function (plate or cylindrical) the area-averaged N leaching decreased by 8 and 37% compared with simulations without lateral N spread; this was due to additional N uptake from pasture on the edge area. A sensitivity analysis showed that area-averaged pasture growth was not greatly affected by the value of the dispersion factor used in the model, whereas N leaching was very sensitive. Thus, the need to account for the edge effect may depend on the objective of the simulations. The modelling results also showed that considering lateral spread of urinary N was sufficient to describe the experimental data, but plant root uptake across urine patch zones may still be relevant in other conditions. Although further work is needed for improving accuracy, the simulated and experimental results demonstrate that accounting for the edge effect is important for determining N leaching from urine-affected areas.

Cichota, R., Vogeler, I., Snow, V., Shepherd, M., Mcauliffe, R., Welten, B., 2018. Lateral spread affects nitrogen leaching from urine patches. Sci. Total Environ. 635: 1392–1404. doi:10.1016/j.scitotenv.2018.04.005