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J Environ Qual. 2006 Mar 1;35(2):575-83. Print 2006 Mar-Apr.

Phosphorus and sediment loss in a catchment with winter forage grazing of cropland by dairy cattle.

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AgResearch Ltd., Invermay Agricultural Centre, Private Bag 50034 Mosgiel, Otago, New Zealand.


The loss of phosphorus and sediment to surface waters can impair their quality. It was hypothesized that the practice of winter grazing dairy cattle on cropland of moderate slope (5-20%) would exacerbate the loss of P and suspended sediment (SS) from land to water. In a small (4.3 ha) catchment two flumes were installed, upstream and downstream of one field (about 2 ha) that had been cropped for 2 yr and grazed in winter (June-July) by dairy cattle. Flow proportional samples were taken and measured for dissolved reactive phosphorus (DRP), particulate phosphorus (PP), total phosphorus (TP), and SS. During the 2002 hydrologic year (March-February) loads of SS increased per hectare downstream (1449 kg ha(-1)) compared to upstream (880 kg ha(-1)). The same increase from upstream (873 kg ha(-1)) to downstream (969 kg ha(-1)) happened in 2003. However, while in 2003 TP increased downstream by 1.64 kg ha(-1) compared to upstream (0.24 kg ha(-1)), in 2002 an increase of only 0.006 kg ha(-1) at the downstream flume occurred compared to upstream (0.98 kg ha(-1)). Investigation of P transport pathways suggested that overland flow contributed <0.1 kg P ha(-1) to stream flow, 10 and 5% of TP load in 2002 and 2003, with the greater load in 2002 reflecting more rainfall in that year. The contribution to stream flow by subsurface flow was estimated at 0.3 kg P ha(-1). Stream bed sediments showed an increase in total P concentration in summer when no flow occurred due to the admission by the farmer of 10 cattle upstream of the cropped paddock in summer 2001-2002 and 20 cattle between the two flumes in 2003 to graze stream banks. This action was calculated to contribute via dung at least, the remaining P lost: about 0.5 kg P in 2002 and 1.0 kg P in 2003. Clearly, not allowing animals to "clear-up" stream banks is a priority if good surface water quality is to be achieved. Furthermore, compared to stock access the impact of winter grazing cropland on P losses was minimal, but SS load was increased by an average of 75%.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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