The Influence of Agricultural Trade and Livestock Production on the Global Phosphorus Cycle
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Trends of increasing agricultural trade, increased concentration of livestock production systems, and increased human consumption of livestock products influence the distribution of nutrients across the global landscape. Phosphorus (P) represents a unique management challenge as we are rapidly depleting mineable reserves of this essential and non-renewable resource. At the same time, its overuse can lead to pollution of aquatic ecosystems. We analyzed the relative contributions of food crop, feed crop, and livestock product trade to P flows through agricultural soils for 12 countries from 1961 to 2007. Due to the intensification of agricultural production, average soil surface P balances more than tripled from 6 to 21 kg P ha−1 between 1961 and 2007 for the 12 study countries. Consequently, countries that are primarily agricultural exporters carried increased risks for water pollution or, for Argentina, reduced soil fertility due to soil P mining to support exports. In 2007, nations imported food and feed from regions with higher apparent P fertilizer use efficiencies than if those crops were produced domestically. However, this was largely because imports were sourced from regions depleting soil P resources to support export crop production. In addition, the pattern of regional specialization and intensification of production systems also reduced the potential to recycle P resources, with greater implications for livestock production than crop production. In a globalizing world, it will be increasingly important to integrate biophysical constraints of our natural resources and environmental impacts of agricultural systems into trade policy and agreements and to develop mechanisms that move us closer to more equitable management of non-renewable resources such as phosphorus.
Keywordsglobalization nutrient balance eutrophication peak phosphorus biogeochemistry agricultural trade
We thank Tim Crews and Graham MacDonald for useful comments and discussions. This work was supported by a Macdonald Sustainable Agriculture Postdoctoral Fellowship to MES and NSERC grants to EMB.
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