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Fertilizer Application Patterns and Trends, and Their Implications

for Water Quality in the Western Lake Erie Basin

Prepared by Great Lakes Science Advisory Board Science Priority Committee
Fertilizer Application Work Group

NOAA, 2015


Canada and the United States Canada et États-Unis
Welcome and thank you for your participation

Gordon Walker
Chair, Canadian Section
International Joint Commission
Project Team
Workgroup Members and Reviewers
J. David Allan*
University of Michigan Laura Johnson Heidelberg University
Michael Murray*
National Wildlife Federation Pamela Joosse Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada
Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural
Tom Bruulsema International Plant Nutrition Institute Joe Kelpinski
U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research
Patricia Chambers Environment and Climate Change Canada Kevin King
Anne Cook The Andersons Incorporated Andrea Kirkwood University of Ontario Institute of Technology
Irina Creed Western University Rebecca Muenich Arizona State University
U.S. Department of Agriculture, Natural
Steve Davis Jeff Ridal St. Lawrence River Institute of Environmental Sciences
Resources Conservation Service
Joe DePinto Independent Consultant Clare Robinson Western University
Brad Glasman Upper Thames River Conservation Authority Craig Stow National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Ontario Ministry of Environment and Climate
Pradeep Goel Chris Winslow Ohio State University
Bob Hecky University of Minnesota – Duluth Santina Wortman U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
IJC Staff: LimnoTech:
Matthew Child*, International Joint Commission (Great Lakes Regional Office) John Bratton, Noemi Barabas, Chelsie Boles, Brian Lord,
Glenn Benoy, International Joint Commission (Canadian Section) Dan Rucinski, Derek Schlea
Mark Gabriel, International Joint Commission (U.S. Section)
* Work group report authors
NOAA, 2017

Purpose of webinar:
◦ Review assessment of past, current and possible future nonpoint agricultural runoff of phosphorus
into western Lake Erie, and their potential to cause eutrophic conditions and harmful algal blooms

◦ Outline recommendations for additional research, monitoring and data needed to implement best management
actions to restore health of Lake Erie

◦ Questions and Comments

Dr. J. David Allan, Work Group Co-Chair
University of Michigan School for Environment
and Sustainability
Co-author of report

Dr. Michael W. Murray, Work Group Co-Chair

National Wildlife Federation
Great Lakes Regional Center
Co-author of report
Project Introduction
Key Objective: NOAA, 2017

• Assess magnitude and relative importance of two broad nutrient sources – commercial
fertilizer and manure – and influence of associated management practices on nutrient
loads and their impacts to the western Lake Erie basin (WLEB)

• Evaluate commercial fertilizer and manure application patterns throughout WLEB

(including Huron-Erie Corridor)

• Review land and nutrient management programs, current monitoring and modelling
efforts, and factors influencing nutrient loads to Lake Erie

Project team:
• IJC Science Priority Committee members, working group, and contractor (LimnoTech)

Full report: Technical report:

Findings and Recommendations:
Relative Importance of Different Nutrient Sources - 1
1. No analytical or data analysis methods for distinguishing P loads to lake from commercial
fertilizer versus manure
Recommendation: Continue emerging research on P source monitoring, field-based
monitoring of P loss

2. Estimated overall (elemental P) manure generation and commercial fertilizer application

values (2006-07):
• 41,687 tonnes (72 percent) for U.S. watershed
• 16,327 tonnes (28 percent) for Canadian watershed
• Agencies obtain (e.g. through surveys) commercial fertilizer data at higher temporal and
spatial resolution
• Better quantify all major components of manure generation, management, field
application, and associated P loss and impacts
Commercial Fertilizer P Application Rate
Commercial Fertilizer
Application Summary
• P application declining over past few decades

• No apparent major changes in application rate

over past decade

• Some areas of elevated application

• Numerous data/information challenges, e.g.:

• Type of commercial fertilizer
• Distinguishing P by type of fertilizer or
recent vs ‘legacy’
• Information on farm practices not available
publicly at high resolution
Data from IPNI NuGIS database,
prepared by LimnoTech
Manure P Production/Area
Manure Production Summary
• Commercial:manure P ~ 80:20 in U.S. portion,
50:50 in Canadian portion

• More manure generated, applied in upper


• No apparent major changes in manure

production since mid-1980

• Numerous data/information challenges, e.g.:

• Information on quantities applied, specific
• Potential for “hot spots”
• Less information on non-permitted animal
feeding facilities Data from IPNI NuGIS database,
prepared by LimnoTech
Findings and Recommendations:
Relative Importance of Different Nutrient Sources – 2
• No field evidence of differences in P export for commercial fertilizer vs. manure
• Sources other than commercial fertilizer, manure appear to be relatively minor (but may
have local impacts)
• Also need to consider crop balance, legacy sources
Bast et al. 2009; IPNI
• Expand source attribution research

• Evaluate approaches to increasing data


• Expand understanding of location of

legacy P (below)
• Western basin of Lake Erie and tributaries are among most intensively monitored parts of
Great Lakes basin

• Monitoring data are critical to diagnosing problems, tracking improvements, and calibrating

• There is need for improved integration of monitoring programs across jurisdictions, and
enhanced monitoring overall

• Design and implement an integrated long-term monitoring network for water quality and
agricultural practices to support management decisions

• Develop stable funding mechanisms and institutional stewards for sustained, long-term
binational monitoring and data management

Full report: Technical report:

Conceptualized nitrogen (a) and phosphorus (b) processes in SWAT

• Models provide important insights that may not be
possible from field observations alone, and can simulate
future outcomes of management interventions

• The Soil and Water Assessment Tool (SWAT) has been

particularly helpful in exploring nutrient runoff sensitivity
to various drivers and the effectiveness of different
management strategies
Neitsch et al., 2011

• Results suggest wide implementation of mix of strategies is necessary to meet P targets

• Integrate modeling work and monitoring networks with high-resolution surveys of changing
agricultural practices and watershed characteristics to support predictions

• Continue development of research models at various scales to improve process

understanding and simulate alternate management scenarios
Additional Factors Influencing Affecting Nutrient Loss

Tillage practices
Subsurface tile drains

Legacy P

Climate change

Others Factors
Tillage Practices
• Some type of conservation tillage (mulch tillage, seasonal no-tillage, or continuous
no-tillage) is in place on the majority (63%) of WLEB cropland

• Expansion of conservation tillage since the 1990s; while providing other benefits,
conservation tillage is considered a contributory factor to DRP export

• Tillage practices can affect P accumulation in the uppermost soil layer, and may
allow soil macropores to form linking soil surface to drain tiles

Support research and monitoring into the implications of various tillage practices for P
accumulation at the soil surface and P transport through drain tiles, and to explore
potential new approaches to minimizing P losses associated with various tillage
Subsurface Tile Drains
• Tile drains likely increase conveyance of P through subsurface pathways

• Tile drainage is extensive, continuing to expand, and not well documented

Smoothed, long-term trend for the DRP/TP concentration

Recommendation: ratio in the Maumee River
• Agencies obtain more current data on
tile drainage networks and impact on P
form and mass transport, including
interactions with tillage practices, fertilizer
application, and relative role and rates of Stow et al. 2015
tile discharge versus surface runoff of P

Stow et al. 2015

Legacy P
• Stored soil P (legacy P) has accumulated over past decades due
to fertilizer application in excess of P removal in harvested crops
• Recent declines in surface soil P levels suggest drawdown of
stored P, consistent with declines in P fertilizer application and
in P removal as crop harvest
• Some legacy P may be mobilized for years to come, including
from P-saturated non-agricultural land

• Agencies collect and regularly update binational data set of
phosphorus soil data (including vertical stratification, with
consistent protocols for soil test phosphorus)
Climate Change
• Increased river discharge since the 1990s
contributes to current elevated TP and DRP

• Should river discharges increase in future

years, attainment of target P loads will
become more difficult

• Continue to evaluate climate change Monthly average precipitation for Ohio Region 1 (top) and Maumee River
discharge (bottom) for 1975-2013. (reprinted with permission from Stow et al.
impacts on P loads from rivers as a 2015. Copyright 2015 American Chemical Society)

potentially complicating factor influencing

determination of (and approaches to meet) target loads
Closing Remarks
• Management practices may have a greater influence on P delivery to Lake Erie than the
type of fertilizer used

• Broad implementation of a mix of existing BMPs is necessary to reduce P loads

• Current efforts to improve P incorporation and minimize edge-of-field P loss may lead to
wider use of new management practices

• Continue to promote 4R implementation and other approaches of nutrient
management, and expand efforts to evaluate effectiveness

• Support research and monitoring to improve process understanding and identify

management options best able to reduce export of all forms of P
Objectives and Key Questions
Key Objective: Assess the magnitude and relative importance of two broad nutrient sources, commercial
fertilizer and manure, and the influence of nutrient management associated with those major sources
on nutrient loads and their impacts to the WLEB.

Attempted to address following questions:

• What are magnitudes of commercial fertilizer use and manure generation and use in WLEB? Are data
sufficient to understand relative importance of these sources to phosphorus delivery to WLE?
• What is extent of best management practices and programs (e.g. 4R nutrient stewardship) in WLEB
and what is their effectiveness in managing phosphorus loss to tributaries from major sources?
• What is extent of existing monitoring programs and are these programs adequate to ascertain the
relative importance of commercial fertilizer and manure as phosphorus sources to WLE?
• What are capabilities of existing models to help ascertain the relative importance of commercial
fertilizer and manure as contributors of phosphorus to Lake Erie and also to assess the effectiveness
of various management practices?

Full report: Technical report:

For more information on
Fertilizer Application Patterns and Trends, and
Their Implications for Water Quality in the
Western Lake Erie Basin

Contact Matthew Child, Science Priority Committee Secretary


Full report:

Technical report:
Download this webinar at
Lake Erie has benefitted from bold action in the past and
requires similar bold action today to ensure its health and
value to the people of the basin into the future.