Phosphorus runoff from agricultural land and direct fertilizer effects: a review

J Environ Qual. 2004 Nov-Dec;33(6):1954-72. doi: 10.2134/jeq2004.1954.


Phosphorus (P) is one of the most important mineral nutrients in agricultural systems, and along with nitrogen (N), is generally the most limiting nutrient for plant production. Farming systems have intensified greatly over time, and in recent years it has become apparent that the concomitant increase in losses of N and P from agricultural land is having a serious detrimental effect on water quality and the environment. The last two decades have seen a marked increase in research into the issues surrounding diffuse losses of P to surface and ground water. This paper reviews this research, examining the issue of P forms in runoff, and highlighting the exceptions to some generally held assumptions about land use and P transport. In particular the review focuses on P losses associated with recent P fertilizer application, as opposed to organic manures, both on the amounts and the forms of P in runoff water. The effects of the physicochemical characteristics of different forms of P fertilizer are explored, particularly in relation to water solubility. Various means of mitigating the risk of loss of P are discussed. It is argued that the influence of recent fertilizer applications is an under-researched area, yet may offer the most readily applicable opportunity to mitigate P losses by land users. This review highlights and discusses some options that have recently become available that may make a significant contribution to the task of sustainable management of nutrient losses from agriculture.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Agriculture*
  • Environmental Monitoring
  • Fertilizers*
  • Phosphorus / analysis*
  • Rain
  • Water Movements
  • Water Pollutants / analysis*
  • Water Pollution / prevention & control


  • Fertilizers
  • Water Pollutants
  • Phosphorus