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BGU Researchers Reveal that Organic Agriculture Can Pollute Groundwater

New Study Indicates that Liquid Fertilizing Techniques through Drip Irrigation Result in Comparatively Lower Groundwater Pollution Rates

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BEER-SHEVA, Israel, February 15, 2014… Researchers from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU), using specialized monitoring technology, have determined that intensive organic agriculture can cause significant pollution from nitrate leaching into groundwater.

Public demand has led to the rapid development of organic farming in recent years to provide healthy food products that are free of chemical additives and to reduce industrial and groundwater pollution worldwide.

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

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

The system is designed to monitor liquid, gas and soil hydraulic properties and allows real time continuous tracking of water in deep sections of the vadose zone, from land surface to groundwater. It is currently being used in more than 25 commercial and research sites in the United States, Israel, Spain, Namibia, and South Africa.

While groundwater pollution is usually attributed to a large array of chemicals, high nitrate concentration in aquifer water is the main cause for drinking-water well shutdowns.

The down leaching of nitrates under intensive organic farming is due to nutrient release from the compost to the soil during the early stages of the growing season. In this stage, nutrient uptake capacity of the young plants is very low and down 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.

The BGU researchers included Dr. Ofer Dahan and Dr. Naftali Lazarovitch of the Jacob Blaustein Institutes for Desert Research and Efrat E. Russak of the Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences. Dr. Daniel Kurtzman, of The Volcani Institute of Water Research, also participated.

 

American Associates, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev

American Associates, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev plays a vital role in sustaining David Ben-Gurion's vision, creating a world-class institution of education and research in the Israeli desert, nurturing the Negev community and sharing the University's expertise locally and around the globe. With some 20,000 students on campuses in Beer-Sheva, Sede Boqer and Eilat in Israel’s southern desert, BGU is a university with a conscience, where the highest academic standards are integrated with community involvement, committed to sustainable development of the Negev.

Media Contact:

Andrew Lavin
A. Lavin Communications
516-944-4486
alc@alavin.com

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