Modelling through-soil transport of phosphorus to surface waters from livestock agriculture at the field and catchment scale.

Research Division, Scottish Agricultural College (SAC), Bush Estate, Penicuik, Edinburgh EH26 0PH, UK.
Science of The Total Environment (Impact Factor: 4.1). 06/2005; 344(1-3):185-99. DOI: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2005.02.015
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT A model of phosphorus (P) losses in a small dairy farm catchment has been set up based on a linkage of weather-driven field-scale simulations using an adaptation of the MACRO model. Phosphorus deposition, both in faeces from grazing livestock in summer and in slurry spread in winter, has been represented. MACRO simulations with both forms of P deposition had been calibrated and tested at the individual field scale in previous studies. The main contaminant transport mechanism considered at both field and catchment scales is P sorbed onto mobile colloidal faeces particles, which move through the soil by macropore flow. Phosphorus moves readily through soil to field drains under wet conditions when macropores are water-filled, but in dry soil the P carrying colloids become trapped so losses remain at a low level. In the catchment study, a dairy farm is assumed to be composed of fields linked by a linear system of ditches which discharge into a single river channel. Results from linked simulations showed reasonable fits to values of catchment outflow P concentrations measured at infrequent intervals. High simulated outflow P concentrations occurred at similar times of year to high measured values, with some high loss periods during the summer grazing season and some during the winter when slurry would have been spread. However, there was a lack of information about a number parameters that would be required to carry out a more exact calibration and provide a rigorous test of the modelling procedure. It was nevertheless concluded that through soil flow of colloid sorbed P by macropore flow represents a highly plausible mechanism by which P is transported to river systems in livestock farming catchments. This represents an alternative to surface runoff transport, a mechanism to which high P losses from livestock farming areas have often been attributed. The occurrence of high simulated levels of loss under wet conditions indicates environmental benefits from avoiding slurry spreading on wet soil or during rain, and from some forms of grazing management.

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