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Phosphorus fertilization, soil stratification, and potential water quality impacts

D. R. Smith, C. Huang, R. L. Haney
Journal of soil and water conservation 2017 v.72 no.5 pp. 417-424
runoff, Zea mays, Glycine max, discing, no-tillage, water quality, diammonium phosphate, fertilizer rates, corn, phosphorus fertilizers, soil, cover crops, planting, eutrophication, liquid fertilizers, phosphorus, pollution load, rainfall simulation, Lake Erie
Water quality experts have suggested that no-till induces phosphorus (P) stratification, which may exacerbate soluble P (SP) runoff from agricultural fields, contributing to eutrophication. Conservationists have been concerned about increased SP loading to Lake Erie, which has been partially blamed on adoption of no-till and the concomitant P stratification of no-till soils. This study was conducted to provide better insight into the potential link between P stratification from no-till soils and P losses via runoff with the objective of exploring P fertilization strategies on P stratification and P runoff from a corn (Zea mays L.)–soybean (Glycine max L.) rotation. Plots were established with nine treatments, including unfertilized, diammonium phosphate (DAP) applications, monoammonium phosphate (MAP) applications, surface applied, injecting fertilizer or tilling fertilizer in, and the use of cover crops. Fertilizer applications were made at 24.4 kg P ha−1 (21.8 lb P ac−1) every other year or at 9.6 kg P ha−1 (8.7 lb P ac−1) every year. Disking, which was intended to minimize P stratification, resulted in the greatest stratification, with significantly higher water SP and Mehlich 3 P in the 0 to 5 cm (0 to 2 in) soil layer compared to the other treatments. There were no differences in SP or total P (TP) runoff from rainfall simulations between fertilizer source (MAP versus DAP) or fertilizer rate (annual versus biennial). The highest SP concentrations observed were from DAP applied to cover crops at the high application rate (24.4 kg P ha−1 applied every other year). This may suggest cover crops are not the ideal practice to decrease SP losses from agricultural fields. Incorporation of fertilizer reduced SP but increased erosion and could potentially increase TP loss. Injecting liquid fertilizer (polyphosphate [Poly]) at the time of planting resulted in lower SP and TP loads than surface applied fertilizers. We encourage other researchers to confirm these results at the field-to-watershed scale to ensure there are not unintended consequences of adopting this fertilization strategy. Further, fertilizer dealers, crop consultants, and farmers should be encouraged to consider liquid fertilizer applications as one option to minimize P losses.