Field scale phosphorus balances and legacy soil pressures in mixed-land use catchments

N.T. McDonald, D.P. Wall, P.E. Mellander, C. Buckley, M. Shore, G. Shortle, S. Leach, E. Burgess, T. O'Connell, P. Jordan

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22 Citations (Scopus)
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Reducing legacy soil phosphorus (P) is recognised as an effective measure to mitigate diffuse P losses from agricultural landscapes and alleviate trophic pressure to freshwaters systems. Accounting for the distribution of P within farms is critical in identifying fields of agronomic underperformance and/or environmental risk to water as a consequence of inadequately managed re-cycling of P. There is also a need to understand how P use and legacy soil P evolves under the Nitrates Action Programme (NAP) regulations from the European Union (EU) Nitrates Directive. In an Irish case study the aim was to provide a systematic and detailed audit of P balance and soil P responses and trends in two mixed land use agricultural catchments (Arable A and B) across a four year study period. Driven by increased mineral P inputs the field balances in the Arable A catchment had an average surplus P, ranging from 1.9 to 7.5 kg ha−1 yr−1. However, between the study period 2010 to 2013, the average soil test P (STP) levels declined, with the area of excessive soil P concentrations decreasing by 8%. Similarly, in the Arable B catchment the average annual P inputs increased the surplus field P from -0.42 to 25.5 kg ha−1 yr−1, but the area of excessive soil P concentrations increased by 4%. In part, this increase is attributed to some fields receiving excess applications of organic nutrient forms above crop requirements. Whilst, the legacy soil P declined in the Arable A catchment indicating a response to NAP, for both catchments it is evident that the distribution of P sources within farms was poor and P inputs often did not match crop and soil P requirements at the field scale. This study highlights the need for improved support to knowledge transfer mechanisms that can deliver better farm and soil specific nutrient management planning strategies. Without this consideration, achieving the dual benefits of improvement to water quality and increased crop output from agricultural landscapes will be restricted.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)14-23
Number of pages10
JournalAgriculture, Ecosystems and Environment
Early online date12 Jan 2019
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 15 Mar 2019


  • Soil test phosphorus
  • Field balances
  • Fertilizer use
  • Agricultural catchment
  • Nutrient management


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