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Volume 83, Issue 1 p. 77-85
Symposium: Long-Term Field Research

Buildup and Decline in Soil Phosphorus: 30-Year Trends on a Typic Umprabuult

R. E. McCollum

Corresponding Author

R. E. McCollum

Dep. of Soil Science, North Carolina State Univ., Raleigh, NC, 27695-7619

*Corresponding authorSearch for more papers by this author
First published: 01 January 1991
Citations: 166

Paper no. 12563 of the Journal Series of the North Carolina Agric. Res. Ser., Raleigh, NC 27695-7619.


Phosphorus reserves in Ultisols are inherently low; but many Ultisols along the Atlantic seaboard are now high in P, both extractable and total, because P additions have exceeded P removal for many years. How long a high-P soil will maintain plant-available P above yield-limiting levels is of agroeconomic relevance. A field experiment initiated 35 yr ago on Portsmouth soil (fine sandy over sandy or sandy-skeletal, mixed, thermic Typic Umbraquult) and monitored for crop yields and soil-test P (Mehlich-1 extractant) during 8 yr of active P buildup and 26 yr of residual decline has provided quantitative data on this issue. Yields of corn (Zea mays L.) or soybean [Glycine max (L.) Merr.] were maximal with soil-test P ≥ 22 g m−3, and extractable P was maintained in this range (20-24 g m−3) when P removed in harvested products (16 kg ha −1 yr−1) was replaced annually as band-applied fertilizer. High soil-test levels (≥50 g m−3) could not be maintained by annual replacement of crop-removed P because P reversion to unextractable forms was a larger factor than crop removal in depleting the extractable-P pool. Regardless of initial level, P disappearance into these unextractable forms was best described via equations having the form of a first-order chemical reaction; but the magnitude of the rate constant varied with size of the extractable-P pool, i.e., high-P soils have large rate constants; low-P soils have small rate constants. A Portsmouth soil testing 50 to 60 g P m−3 today will test above 22 g m−3, the approximate critical level for corn, for the next 8 to 10 yr without further P additions. Doubling the initial soil test will not double the time to reach yield-limiting P levels, however; the same soil with 100 to 120 g P m−3 initially will drop to 22 g m−3 in about 14 yr.