Agricultural Phosphorus Management and Water Quality Protection in the Midwest

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NCR187 coverNorth Central Regional Publication
Charles Wortmann
Nutrient Management Specialist
University of Nebraska-Lincoln


Phosphorus (P) is an essential nutrient for growth of crops and aquatic vegetation and often needs to be applied to land for optimal crop growth. Land application of P as animal manure, biosolids (sewage sludge), and mineral fertilizer can increase the risk of P pollution of freshwater.

The movement of P from agricultural land to surface and ground water is a complex process involving multiple pathways. Phosphorus moves into surface freshwaters dissolved in runoff water and attached to particulate matter eroded from the land. Recently applied P is particularly prone to losses and is affected by factors such as the form of P applied, the time since application, and the placement. The factors contributing to P loss from agricultural land to surface waters are commonly grouped as source (site and management) factors and transport factors.

This publication is targeted to U.S. EPA Region 7 comprised of Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska.

Iowa State University
  • Matt Helmers, Agricultural and Water Resources Engineer
  • Antonio Mallarino, Soil Fertility and Nutrient Management Specialist
Kansas State University
  • Charles Barden, Forestry Specialist
  • Daniel Devlin, Water Quality Specialist
  • Gary Pierzynski, Soil Fertility and Soil Chemistry Specialist
  • John Lory, Environmental Nutrient Management Specialist
  • Ray Massey, Agricultural Economist
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
  • John Holz, Water Quality Specialist
  • Charles Shapiro, Soil Scientist - Crop Nutrition
USDA-ARS National Soil Tilth Laboratory
  • John Kovar, Soil Scientist


  • Nutrient management planners
  • Risk of phosphorus delivery to surface waters
  • Assessment of risk
  • Management options for reducing risk


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