Organic farming can pollute groundwater, study finds

Researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU), using specialized monitoring technology, have determined that intensive organic farming can cause significant pollution through nitrate leaching into groundwater.

Public demand has led to the rapid development of organic farming in recent years to provide healthy food products without chemical additives and to reduce industrial and groundwater pollution worldwide.

But, according to the article published in the Hydrology and Earth System Science journal, intensive organic matter using composted manure before planting resulted in significantly higher groundwater pollution rates compared to liquid fertilization techniques using drip irrigation.

The study used Vadose Area Monitoring System technology developed at BGU and marketed by Sensoil Innovations Ltd. to compare the water quality in the entire unsaturated zone under organic and conventional greenhouses in Israel.

The system is designed to monitor the hydraulic properties of liquids, gases and soils and provides continuous real-time monitoring of water in deep sections of the vadose zone, from the land surface to groundwater. It is currently in use at over 25 commercial and research sites in the United States, Israel, Spain, Namibia, and South Africa.

While groundwater pollution is generally attributed to a wide range of chemicals, the high concentration of nitrates in aquifer water is the leading cause of drinking water well closures.

Nitrate leaching in intensive organic farming is due to the release of nutrients from compost to the soil during the early stages of the growing season. At this stage, the nutrient uptake capacity of young plants is very low and the leaching of nitrates to the deeper parts of the vadose zone and groundwater is unavoidable.

The study, funded by the Israel Water Authority, was conducted in commercial greenhouses on the southern part of the coastal aquifer in Israel.

Source of the story:

Material provided by American Associates, Ben Gurion University of the Negev. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

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