Nitrate contamination of groundwater occurs when excess nitrate in the soil profile moves along with water that is moving down past the root zone of the crop. In most cases, it is not possible to keep water from moving past the roots, so the only other option for preventing nitrate leaching is to avoid having excess nitrate present in the root zone during times when leaching events are likely to occur. Determine the available nitrogen content of manure prior to application, and don’t apply more available nitrogen than the crop can use. Make the applications as close to the time the crop will use the nitrogen as possible.
Although only available nitrogen is subject to leaching, organic form nitrogen will become available as it mineralizes, at which time it too can leach if not utilized by the crop. The amount of nitrogen that will mineralize prior to and during the crop season should be taken into account when calculating manure application rates. If significant mineralization from previous applications is expected, plan to have a crop present to utilize it prior to leaching events.