Runoff water quality from broiler litter-amended tall fescue in response to natural precipitation in the ozark highlands

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Received for publication March 21, 2008. The Arkansas poultry industry produced more than 1.2 billion broiler chickens (Gallus gallus domesticus) and generated approximately 1.3 million Mg of broiler litter in 2002. High transportation costs of relocating broiler litter have led to annual land applications near poultry houses, increasing concern for potential surface water contamination from runoff. The objective of this study was to evaluate the effect of broiler litter application rate on runoff water quality in response to natural precipitation. Six plots (1.5 by 6.0 m), located on a Captina silt loam (finesilty, siliceous, active, mesic Typic Fragiudult), were amended with fresh broiler litter at 0, 5.6, and 11.2 Mg ha–1 (control, low, and high litter treatments, respectively) once annually for 4 yr (May 2003 through April 2007). Runoff collected after each runoff-producing event was analyzed for soluble nutrients and metals. Cumulative runoff did not differ among litter treatments over the 4-yr study. At times, flow-weighted mean (FWM) concentrations of As from all litter treatments exceeded the maximum contaminant level for drinking water (0.01 mg As L–1). Four-year FWM Fe concentrations and runoff losses were greater (P < 0.05) from the high than from the low litter treatment and unamended control, and the 4-yr FWM P concentration from the low litter treatment (3.0 mg L–1) was greater than that from the unamended control (1.8 mg L–1). Since precipitation is temporally variable, evaluating runoff water quality in response to natural precipitation over several years is key to ascertaining the long-term impacts of surface-applied soil amendments like broiler litter.

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