Output Tool Journal Article
Engin Akyurt, Pexels

You are here: Home ­ Resource Finder ­ Journal Article ­ The longevity of cultivation in decreasing the potential for phosphorus loss in runoff

The longevity of cultivation in decreasing the potential for phosphorus loss in runoff

March 2023

Publication: Soil and Tillage Research
Author(s): McDowell, R. W. and L. C. Smith

Phosphorus (P) loss from highly fertilised grazed pastures can impair surface water quality. High P concentrations in grazed pastures are maintained to boost legume production, but systems that use monocultures of grass and clover can be more profitable and decrease P losses by lowering soil P in grassed areas. In contrast with using a direct drill to establish new pastures, conventional cultivation can lower topsoil P quickly and can be used as part of a farm re-grassing programme every six years. We tested if the potential for low P losses (measured by water extractable P; WEP) could be maintained over six years in pastures (ryegrass and white clover monocultures and a ryegrass and clover mixed sward) despite being fertilised (10, 35 and 100 kg P ha-1) and grazed. Cultivation (0–20 cm) decreased WEP and Olsen P in all three pastures and P rates by 30–50 % compared to direct drill and maintained this decrease for six years. A threshold in Olsen P (22 mg L-1) was noted where WEP concentrations increased at a greater rate relative to Olsen P than below. This threshold was like the critical point in Olsen P for 97 % relative yield in the pastures (22–28 mg L-1) and could be used to advise on cultivation and P fertiliser strategies to help avoid the potential for P loss without significantly compromising yield. The data indicated that cultivation could be used to quickly establish and maintain lower soil P concentrations as part of a strategy to decrease P losses and improve profit by using a split grass-clover system.


  • Phosphorus runoff from land can impair surface water quality.
  • Splitting pastures into monocultures maintains production and enables low P plants to grow in runoff prone areas.
  • Conventional cultivation can be used to quickly decrease enriched soil P for low P plants.
  • Potential for runoff was maintained despite fertiliser P and grazing returns over 6-year period.
  • Conventional cultivation is a suitable method for re-grassing programme to lower runoff P losses.

Projects which produced this output

Scroll to Top