New Tools for Managing Agricultural P

Tuesday, 16 December 2014
Lawrence Alan Baker1, Heidi Marie Peterson1,2, John Little Nieber3 and Jason Ulrich3, (1)University of Minnesota Twin Cities, Minneapolis, MN, United States, (2)Minnesota Department of Agriculture, St. Paul, MN, United States, (3)Univ of Minnesota, Twin Cities, St. Paul, MN, United States
Best management practices (BMPs) generally focus on retaining nutrients (especially P) after they enter the watershed. This approach is expensive, unsustainable, and has not led to reductions of P pollution at large scales (e.g., Mississippi River). Although source reduction, which results in reducing inputs of nutrients to a watershed, has long been cited as a preferred approach, we have not had tools to guide source reduction efforts at the watershed level. To augment conventional TMDL tools, we developed an “actionable” watershed P balance approach, based largely on watershed–specific information, yet simple enough to be utilized as a practical tool. Interviews with farmers were used to obtain detailed farm management data, data from livestock permits were adjusted based on site visits, stream P fluxes were calculated from 3 years of monitoring data, and expert knowledge was used to model P fluxes through animal operations. The overall P use efficiency. Puse was calculated as the sum of deliberate exports (P in animals, milk, eggs, and crops) divided by deliberate inputs (P inputs of fertilizer, feed, and nursery animals x 100. The crop P use efficiency was 1.7, meaning that more P was exported as products that was deliberately imported; we estimate that this mining would have resulted in a loss of 6 mg P/kg across the watershed. Despite the negative P balance, the equivalent of 5% of watershed input was lost via stream export. Tile drainage, the presence of buffer strips, and relatively flat topography result in dominance of P loads by ortho-P (66%) and low particulate P. This, together with geochemical analysis (ongoing) suggest that biological processes may be at least as important as sediment transport in controlling P loads. We have developed a P balance calculator tool to enable watershed management organizations to develop watershed P balances and identify opportunities for improving the efficiency of P utilization.