Fertilizer placement and tillage effects on phosphorus concentration in leachate from fine-textured soils

Mark R. Williams, Kevin W. King, Emily W. Duncan, Lindsay A. Pease, Chad J. Penn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


Adoption of no-tillage in agricultural watersheds has resulted in substantial reductions in sediment and particulate phosphorus (P) transport in surface runoff. No-tillage, however, may result in increased losses of dissolved P in tile-drained landscapes due to the accumulation of P in surface soil layers and prevalence of preferential flow pathways. The objective of this study was to examine the effect of fertilizer placement and tillage on P leaching in fine-textured soils following fertilizer application. Rainfall simulations (90 min; 3.8 cm rainfall depth) immediately following application of monoammonium phosphate fertilizer (75 kg P ha−1) were conducted on 9 m2 plots with pan lysimeters (0.6 m depth) in four agricultural fields located in northwestern Ohio, USA. Three fertilizer placement treatments that covered a range of soil disturbance and soil-fertilizer mixing (broadcasted, injected, and tilled) were replicated on each field. Stable water isotopes were used to separate leachate into preferential and matrix flow components. Results showed that leachate dissolved P concentration was significantly greater when fertilizer was surface broadcast on no-tilled plots (43.7 mg L−1) compared to when the fertilizer was either injected (14.9 mg L−1) or tilled (11.0 mg L−1) into the soil. Event water comprised between 6 and 46% (mean = 22%) of lysimeter leachate and did not vary among treatments. Similar event water contributions among treatments suggest that the disruption of the macropore network was not likely the main mechanism responsible for decreased P concentration in leachate, but rather increased soil-fertilizer contact and decreased interaction between the highly soluble fertilizer and ponded surface water were likely responsible for decreased P concentrations observed for the injected and tilled treatments compared to the broadcasted treatment. Findings indicate that subsurface injection of fertilizer has the potential to limit dissolved P leaching compared to surface broadcast applications and also minimize soil disturbance relative to tillage; thus, it should be considered a promising conservation practice to help meet water quality goals in tile-drained landscapes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)130-138
Number of pages9
JournalSoil and Tillage Research
StatePublished - May 2018
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors would like to thank the producers that allowed us to work on their private land for the purposes of this research. We also appreciate the many staff and students at the USDA-ARS National Soil Erosion Research Laboratory and Soil Drainage Research Unit that helped with data collection, sample analysis, and processing of the data. This research was supported by funding from several sources including the 4R Research Fund ( IPNI-2014-USA-4RN09 ) and The Nature Conservancy (Grant #: 4834-001 ).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018


  • Lysimeter
  • Preferential flow
  • Tile drainage


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