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The Phosphorus Index: Changes afoot
Date:11/5/2012

Phosphorus (P) is both an essential nutrient in agricultural fields and a contributor to poor water quality in surface waters. To encourage improved P management in fields, the P Index was proposed as a risk assessment tool in 1992. After 20 years of use, modifications, and growing pains, does the P Index accurately assess the risk of P loss?

A special section being published next month in the Journal of Environmental Quality addresses that question. The collection of papers grew out of a symposium at the American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America, and Soil Science Society of America 2011 Annual Meetings. The section acknowledges the problems that have been encountered with P Index development and implementation, such as inconsistencies between state indices, and also suggests ways in which the indices can be tested against data or models to improve risk assessment and shape future indices.

The P Index was proposed in a 1992 symposium after people became aware of the environmental impacts of P loss from fields. Many farmers were applying manure or other biosolids to their fields at rates that over-applied P. Researchers realized that assessing the risk of P loss from those products was important to protect water quality. The P Index tool was needed to connect various conditions because P loss is influenced by both site characteristics (e.g., soil test levels, connectivity to water) and the sources of P applied (e.g., inorganic fertilizer, organic sources). It was therefore a great improvement over the use of agronomic soil testing for P risk assessment.

"The objective of the original P Index was to identify fields that had high risk of P loss and then guide producers' decisions on implementing best management practices," says Nathan Nelson, ASA and SSSA member and co-author of the special section's introductory paper. "The P Index has developed into a widely used tool to identify appropriate management pract
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Contact: Caroline Schneider
cschneider@sciencesocieties.org
608-268-3976
American Society of Agronomy
Source:Eurekalert

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