Nutrient Cycling in Agroecosystems

, Volume 59, Issue 3, pp 269-284

First online:

Processes controlling soil phosphorus release to runoff and implications for agricultural management

  • R.W. McDowellAffiliated withDepartment of Geography, University of CambridgePasture Systems and Watershed Management Research Unit, USDA-ARS
  • , A.N. SharpleyAffiliated withPasture Systems and Watershed Management Research Unit, USDA-ARS Email author 
  • , L.M. CondronAffiliated withSoil, Plant & Ecological Sciences Division, Lincoln University
  • , P.M. HaygarthAffiliated withInstitute of Grassland and Environmental Research, North Wyke
  • , P.C. BrookesAffiliated withIACR-Rothamsted

Rent the article at a discount

Rent now

* Final gross prices may vary according to local VAT.

Get Access


Phosphorus (P) loss from agricultural land to surface waters is well known as an environmental issue because of the role of P in freshwater eutrophication. Much research has been conducted on the erosion and loss of P in sediments and surface runoff. Recently, P loss in sub-surface runoff via agricultural drainage has been identified as environmentally significant. High soil P levels are considered as a potential source of P loss. However, without favourable hydrological conditions P will not move. In this paper, we review the basis of soil P release into solution and transport in surface and sub-surface runoff. Our objectives are to outline the role of soil P and hydrology in P movement and management practices that can minimize P loss to surface waters. Remedial strategies to reduce the risk of P loss in the short-term are discussed, although it is acknowledged that long-term solutions must focus on achieving a balance between P inputs in fertilizers and feed and P outputs in production systems.

agricultural management agricultural runoff animal manures eutrophication phosphorus subsurface flow surface runoff