An Assessment of Management Practices to Control Nutrient and Pesticide Levels in Vegetable Production Areas in the Rattaphum Catchment, Thailand
The over-use of agrochemicals may have adverse effects on soils along with surface and groundwater. An assessment of alternative management practices to reduce the application of agrochemicals and minimise the pollution of water resources was carried out in the vegetable agro-ecosystem in the Rattaphum Catchment. This paper details the factors that govern the volume of agrochemicals used on high intensity crops in this area, covering the choice of crop and cropping patterns, level of pest and weed infestation and the socio-economic status of farmers such as capital, size of holding and labour availability. Alternative management practices tested included (i) a reduction in the use of pesticides and chemical fertilisers; (ii) the use of bio-insecticides and bio-fertilisers; and (iii) the development of buffer zones near streams to reduce nutrient leaching into surface water systems. The results showed that when compared with bio-insecticides, synthetic insecticides were more effective in controlling major insect pests during chaisim vegetable production and were associated with higher net incomes. The high rate of application of chemical fertilisers in home gardens and commercial farms led to the accumulation of phosphorous and potassium in the top soil, with the traditional method of combining organic and chemical fertilisers producing the highest total nitrogen soil content. A fifty percent reduction in chemical fertilisers in the commercial farms produced the lowest total nitrogen soil content, without any apparent change in crop yield. The three types of tested buffers seem to be effective in reducing runoff and sediment load and were particularly efficient in lowering nutrient leaching to streams; the best results were obtained with an effective length of 2.5 m.