Soil phosphorus, hydrological risk and water quality carrying capacities in agricultural catchments

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To support profitable agricultural production, nutrients, including phosphorus (P) are applied to soils. However, to avoid over-application and mobilisation of excess P, in-soil concentrations must be maintained at the agronomic optimum (crop requirement) through soil test P (STP) data. Areas above optimum STP (e.g., Olsen P) status have been linked to elevated instream soluble reactive P (SRP) concentrations. For example, when this status is combined with hydrologically sensitive areas (HSAs), excess P can be mobilised and transported directly to surface waters. Catchment carrying capacities for high STP are a possible management strategy to reduce these pressures. The aim of this study was to investigate the transferability of catchment carrying capacity approaches using primary and secondary datasets. Field by field STP status and LiDAR derived HSAs (2 m grid resolution) were compared with instream SRP concentrations using combinations of least squares regressions. The high range of STP catchment carrying capacities (15 % − 44 %, depending on the regression used) was influenced by the variation of instream SRP concentration thresholds (48 – 71 µg L-1) that are determined using altitude and alkalinity factors. However, a single SRP threshold of 35 µg L-1 reduced the catchment STP carrying capacity to a smaller range (10 % − 16 %), with a mean of 13 %. The analysis showed that instream particulate P concentrations were also related to above optimum STP but to a lesser degree and that all HSAs were vulnerable to P loss when soils were above optimum STP. Targeted management strategies should follow a “treatment-train” approach starting with reducing the catchment or farm area above agronomic optimum STP to a carrying capacity (proposed here as 13 %), followed by interception measures located at HSA breakthrough and delivery points to reduce both instream SRP concentration and load.
Original languageEnglish
Article number107964
Pages (from-to)1-12
Number of pages12
Early online date15 Mar 2024
Publication statusPublished online - 15 Mar 2024

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  • Critical source area
  • Hydrologically sensitive area
  • Particulate phosphorus
  • Runoff
  • Soil test phosphorus
  • Soluble reactive phosphorus
  • Water quality


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