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Phosphorus Stocks and Flows in an Intensive Livestock Dominated Food System

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

Article number105065
<mark>Journal publication date</mark>1/12/2020
<mark>Journal</mark>Resources, Conservation and Recycling
Number of pages9
Publication StatusPublished
Early online date31/07/20
<mark>Original language</mark>English


Current use and management of phosphorus (P) in our food systems is considered unsustainable and considerable improvements in the efficiency of P use are required to mitigate the environmental impact of poor P stewardship. The inherent low P use efficiency of food production from animals means food systems dominated by livestock agriculture can pose unique challenges for improving P management. This paper presents the results of a substance flow analysis for P in the Northern Ireland (NI) food system for the year 2017 as a case study for examining P stewardship in a livestock dominated agricultural system. Imported livestock feed was by far the largest flow of P into the NI food system in 2017 (11,700 t ± 1300 t) and P from livestock excreta the largest internal flow of P (20,400 ± 1900t). The P contained in livestock slurries and manures alone that were returned to agricultural land exceeded total crop and grass P requirement by 20% and were the largest contributor to an annual excess soil P accumulation of 8.5 ± 1.4 kg ha−1. This current livestock driven P surplus also limits the opportunities for P circularity and reuse from other sectors within the food system, e.g. wastewater biosolids and products from food processing waste. Management of livestock P demand (livestock numbers, feed P content) or technological advancements that facilitate the processing and subsequent export of slurries and manures are therefore needed.