Document Type

Honors Thesis

Publication Date

Spring 5-2017


The natural cycle of nitrogen is an essential part of both plant growth and crop

production, but in recent years there has been an increase in nitrogen through the use of synthetic fertilizers. Agricultural surface runoff can carry away the converted, mobile nitrate nitrogen into downstream systems leading to an unnatural influx of nitrogen. This increased nutrient load can stimulate algal growth in the marine ecosystem which can cause an oxygen depletion. When the dissolved oxygen levels fall, the area is deemed ‘hypoxic’ and can no longer support most aquatic life. In recent decades, industrial agriculture has used monoculture practices, which are heavily governed by the use of synthetic fertilizers, to meet crop demand but employing the practices year after year strip away nutrients from the soil. In response, best management practices (BMPs) have been established to reduce the use of synthetic fertilizers and their adverse effects on the environment but a lesser used agricultural practice is polyculture, although utilizing these practices also reduces nitrogen demand. This study looked into both BMPs and polyculture in a comparative light to showcase the benefits of utilizing polyculture practices to reduce both nitrogen demand and hypoxic conditions in downstream systems. A focus was also made to provide recommendations as to when and where polyculture agriculture should be employed to maximize the benefits.