Factors affecting phosphorus transport at a conventionally-farmed site in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, 1992-95

Water-Resources Investigations Report 96-4168




The U.S. Geological Survey and the Bureau of Land and Water Conservation of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection conducted a cooperative study to determine the effects of manure application and antecedent soil-phosphorus concentrations on the transport of phosphorus from the soil of a typical farm site in Lancaster County, Pa., from September 1992 to March 1995. The relation between concentrations of soil phosphorus and phosphorus transport needs to be identified because excessive phosphorus concentrations in surface-water bodies promote eutrophication. The objective of the study was to quantify and determine the significance of chemical, physical, and hydrologic factors that affected phosphorus transport. Three study plots less than 1 acre in size were tilled and planted in silage corn. Phosphorus in the form of liquid swine and dairy manure was injected to a depth of 6-8 inches on two of the three study plots in May 1993 and May 1994. Plot 1 received no inputs of phosphorus from manure while plots 2 and 3 received an average of 56 and 126 kilograms of phosphorus per acre, respectively, from the two manure applications. No other fertilizer was applied to any of the study plots. From March 30, 1993, through December 31, 1993, and March 10, 1994, through August 31, 1994 (the study period), phosphorus and selected cations were measured in precipitation, manure, soil, surface runoff, subsurface flow (at 18 inches below land surface), and corn plants before harvest. All storm events that yielded surface runoff and subsurface flow were sampled. Surface runoff was analyzed for dissolved (filtered through a 0.45-micron filter) and total concentrations. Subsurface flow was only analyzed for dissolved constituents. Laboratory soil-flask experiments and geochemical modeling were conducted to determine the maximum phosphate retention capacity of sampled soils after manure applications and primary mineralogic controls in the soils that affect phosphate equilibrium processes. Physical characteristics, such as particle-size distributions in soil, the suspended sediment and particle-size distribution in surface runoff, and surface topography, were quantified. Hydrologic characteristics, such as precipitation intensity and duration, volumes of surface runoff, and infiltration rates of soil, were also monitored during the study period. Volumes of surface runoff differed by plot. Volumes of surface runoff measured during the study period from plots 1 (0.43 acres), 2 (0.23 acres), and 3 (0.28 acres) were 350,000, 350,000, and 750,000 liters per acre, respectively. About 90 percent of the volume of surface runoff occurred after October 1993 because of the lack of intense precipitation from March 30, 1993, through November 30, 1993. For any one precipitation amount, volumes of surface runoff increased with an increase in the maximum intensity of precipitation and decreased with an increase in storm duration. The significantly higher volume of surface runoff for plot 3 relative to plots 1 and 2 was probably caused by lower infiltration rates on plot 3. Soil concentrations of plant-available phosphorus (PAP) for each study plot were high (31-60 parts per million) to excessive (greater than 60 parts per million) for each depth interval (0-6, 6-12, and 12- 24 inches) and sampling period except for some samples collected at depths of 12-24 inches. The high levels of PAP before manure applications made it difficult to detect any changes in the concentration of soil PAP caused by manure applications. Manure applications to the study area prior to this study resulted in relatively high concentrations of soil PAP; however, the manure applications to plot 3 during the study period did cause an increase in the soil concentration of PAP after the second manure application. The percentages of total phosphorus in plant-available and inorganic forms were about 5 and 80 percent, respectively, in the 0-24-

Additional publication details

Publication type:
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Factors affecting phosphorus transport at a conventionally-farmed site in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, 1992-95
Series title:
Water-Resources Investigations Report
Series number:
Year Published:
U.S. Geological Survey
Contributing office(s):
Pennsylvania Water Science Center
vii, 93 p. :ill., maps ;28 cm.