The Role of Computer Models in Environmental Phosphorus Management

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Why Model Agricultural Phosphorus?

Computer models are excellent ways to integrate years of scientific research into decision tools that producers and policy makers can use to reduce the environmental impact of agricultural phosphorus. Models are playing more important roles in efforts to manage phosphorus at the farm and watershed scales, so it is increasingly important to make sure models are well developed to meet the needs of users, give reliable predictions, and are consistently updated to keep pace with scientific knowledge.

What Did We Do?

Our research over the past 10 years has concentrated on developing scientifically sound, reliable models that can be used to better manage agricultural phosphorus. This includes developing state-of-the-art models for soil phosphorus cycling and loss to the environment in surface runoff and leaching from soils, manures, and fertilizers. We have also concentrated on making sure models of different complexity, from daily processed-based models to annual empirical models, are based on the same principles and give similar predictions so there are a variety of model choices available to meet user needs.

What Have We Learned?

It is certainly possible to develop reliable, scientifically sound, phosphorus management models, as our research success demonstrates. The best model development requires interdisciplinary collaborations and excellent communication between experimentalists, model developers, and model users. Such a framework of interconnected experimentation and model development should symbiotically advance the science of agricultural P and environmental protection beyond the point that the two proceeding independently can achieve.

Future Plans

Model development research continues to make sure that available models are kept up to date with scientific knowledge and meet the needs of users concerning ease of use and data requirements.


Peter Vadas, Dairy Systems Scientist, USDA-ARS Dairy Forage Research Center,

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