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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2003

Incidental phosphorus losses - are they significant and can they be predicted?

Withers PJA, Ulen B, Stamm C, Bechmann M


Fresh applications of phosphorus (P) may cause 'incidental' losses of dissolved and particulate P forms in land runoff when rainfall interacts directly with fertilizers and manures which are spread, or excreted, onto the soil surface. Research indicates that when incidental P losses (IPL) occur, they often make the dominant (50-98%) contribution to measured P loads in surface and sub-surface runoff from field plots, with increased risk of eutrophication where P-enriched runoff is routed directly to the watercourse. Rates of P loss are temporally and spatially very variable (< 1 to 25% of total P applied) depending on the amount of P applied; the P release properties of the materials applied (% P extractable in water), the timing of storm events after application and the amounts of runoff generated. Large P applications left on the surface of wet, frozen, compacted, and intensively underdrained soils in high rainfall areas are particularly vulnerable to IPL. Concentrations of P in runoff are often greatest during the first storm event following P application, but can remain high for several weeks, or even months after application. Catchment scale impacts are more difficult to quantify due to the effects of dilution with runoff from fields without IPL, and the contributions of P from other sources. Approaches to predicting IPL are discussed and need to be improved in order to assess the contribution of IPL to catchment P loads in river basin management planning. Strategies to control IPL should focus on adoption of more sensitive management practices in fields with a high risk of rapid runoff or preferential flow, and are likely to very effective

Published in

Journal of Plant Nutrition and Soil Science
2003, Volume: 166, number: 4, pages: 459-468

    SLU Authors

    • Ulen, Barbro

      • Department of Soil Sciences, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences

    UKÄ Subject classification

    Agricultural Science

    Publication Identifiers


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