Phosphorus loss from land to water: Integrating agricultural and environmental management

Andrew N. Sharpley, Richard W. Mcdowell, Peter J.A. Kleinman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

354 Scopus citations


Phosphorus (P), an essential nutrient for crop and animal production, can accelerate freshwater eutrophication, now one of the most ubiquitous forms of water quality impairment in the developed world. Repeated outbreaks of harmful algal blooms (e.g., Cyanobacteria and Pfiesteria) have increased society's awareness of eutrophication, and the need for solutions. Agriculture is regarded as an important source of P in the environment. Specifically, the concentration of specialized farming systems has led to a transfer of P from areas of grain production to animal production. This has created regional surpluses in P inputs (mineral fertilizer and feed) over outputs (crop and animal produce), built up soil P in excess of crop needs, and increased the loss of P from land to water. Recent research has shown that this loss of P in both surface runoff and subsurface flow originates primarily from small areas within watersheds during a few storms. These areas occur where high soil P, or P application in mineral fertilizer or manure, coincide with high runoff or erosion potential. We argue that the overall goal of efforts to reduce P loss to water should involve balancing P inputs and outputs at farm and watershed levels by optimizing animal feed rations and land application of P as mineral fertilizer and manure. Also, conservation practices should be targeted to relatively small but critical watershed areas for P export.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)287-307
Number of pages21
JournalPlant and Soil
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2001

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Soil Science
  • Plant Science


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