Assessing the concept of control points for dissolved reactive phosphorus losses in subsurface drainage

Luciano Alves de Oliveira, Ariana Muñoz Ventura, Giovani Preza-Fontes, Kristin D. Greer, Cameron M. Pittelkow, Rabin Bhattarai, Reid Christianson, Laura Christianson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Agricultural phosphorus (P) loss, which is highly variable in space and time, has been studied using the hot spot/hot moment concept, but increasing the rigor of these assessments through a relatively newer “ecosystem control point” framework may help better target management practices that provide a disproportionate water quality benefit. Sixteen relatively large (0.85 ha) subsurface drainage plots in Illinois were used as individual observational units to assess dissolved reactive P (DRP) concentrations and losses within a given field over four study years. Three plot-months were identified as DRP control points (one export and two transport control points), where each plot-month contributed >10% of the annual DRP load from the field. These control points occurred on separate plots and in both the growing and nongrowing seasons but were likely related to agronomic P applications. Elevated soil test P, especially near a historic farmstead, and soil clay content were spatial drivers of P loss across the field. The nongrowing season was hypothesized to be the most significant period of P loss, but this was only documented in two of the four study years. A cereal rye (Secale cereale L.) cover crop did not significantly reduce DRP loss in any year, but there was also no evidence of increased drainage P losses due to freezing and thawing of the cover crop biomass. This work confirmed annual subsurface drainage DRP losses were agronomically small (<3% of P application rate), although the range of DRP concentrations relative to eutrophication criteria still demonstrated a potential for negative environmental impact. The control point concept may provide a new lens to view drainage DRP losses, but this framework should be refined through additional within-field studies because mechanisms of P export at this field were more nuanced than just the presence of tile drainage (i.e., a transport control point).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1155-1167
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Environmental Quality
Issue number6
Early online dateAug 10 2022
StatePublished - Nov 1 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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