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Journal of Environmental Quality Abstract - Special Section Evaluation of Phosphorus Indices: Twenty Years of Science and Development

Phosphorus Indices: Why We Need to Take Stock of How We Are Doing


This article in JEQ

  1. Vol. 41 No. 6, p. 1711-1719
    Received: Jan 21, 2012
    Published: October 16, 2012

    * Corresponding author(s): sharpley@uark.edu
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  1. Andrew Sharpley *a,
  2. Doug Beegleb,
  3. Carl Bolsterc,
  4. Laura Goodd,
  5. Brad Joerne,
  6. Quirine Ketteringsf,
  7. John Loryg,
  8. Rob Mikkelsenh,
  9. Deanna Osmondi and
  10. Peter Vadasj
  1. a Dep. of Crop, Soil and Environmental Sciences, Division of Agriculture, Univ. of Arkansas, Fayetteville, AR 72701
    b Dep. of Crop and Soil Sciences, The Pennsylvania State Univ., University Park, PA 16802
    c USDA–ARS, Animal Waste Management Research Unit, Bowling Green, KY 42104
    d Dep. of Soil Science, Univ. of Wisconsin–Madison, Madison, WI 53706
    e Dep. of Agronomy, Purdue Univ., West Lafayette, IN 47907
    f Dep. of Animal Science, Cornell Univ., Ithaca, NY 14853
    g Division of Plant Sciences, Univ. of Missouri, Columbia, MO 65211
    h International Plant Nutrition Institute, Merced, CA 95348
    i Soil Science Dep., North Carolina State Univ., Raleigh, NC 27695
    j USDA–ARS, Dairy Forage Research Unit, Madison, WI 53706. Assigned to Associate Editor Amy Shober


Many states have invested significant resources to identify components of their Phosphorus (P) Index that reliably estimate the relative risk of P loss and incentivize conservation management. However, differences in management recommendations and manure application guidelines for similar field conditions among state P Indices, coupled with minimal reductions in the extent of P-impaired surface waters and soil test P (STP) levels, led the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to revise the 590 Nutrient Management Standard. In preparation for this revision, NRCS requested that a review of the scientific underpinnings and accuracy of current P Indices be undertaken. They also sought to standardize the interpretation and management implications of P Indices, including establishment of ratings above which P applications should be curtailed. Although some states have initiated STP thresholds above which no application of P is allowed, STP alone cannot define a site’s risk of P loss. Phosphorus Indices are intended to account for all of the major factors leading to P loss. A rigorous evaluation of P Indices is needed to determine if they are directionally and magnitudinally correct. Although use of observed P loss data under various management scenarios is ideal, such data are spatially and temporally limited. Alternatively, the use of a locally validated water quality model that has been shown to provide accurate estimates of P loss may be the most expedient option to conduct Index assessments in the short time required by the newly revised 590 Standard.

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Copyright © 2012. Copyright © by the American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America, and Soil Science Society of America, Inc.