• Phosphorus;
  • leaching;
  • preferential flow;
  • tillage;
  • no-tillage;
  • phosphorus fertilizers;
  • clay soils

Abstract. Preferential flow may enhance phosphorus transport through the soil profile and thereby increase the risks for eutrophication of watercourses. Destruction of continuous macropores in topsoil by tillage provides the possibility for better contact between soil particles and P fertilizer. This is facilitated by incorporation rather than surface application of fertilizer, which should reduce the risk of rapid P transport from the soil surface through the unsaturated zone. To test this hypothesis, undisturbed soil monoliths (0.295 m in diameter and 1.2 m in length) were collected at a field site with a clay soil in which preferential flow is the dominant solute transport mechanism. After three years of observation, average total P loads reached 1.86, 1.59 and 1.25 kg ha–1for no-tillage, conventional tillage, and conventional tillage where the P fertilizer was incorporated, respectively. More than 80% of total losses were in the form of dissolved P. The tillage treatment had no significant effect on P leaching loads compared to no-tillage, but the improved contact between soil particles and P fertilizer resulting from fertilizer incorporation significantly reduced P loads during the first year after application of 100 kg P ha–1. However, after further application of 100 kg P ha–1 two years later, there were no significant differences between the treatments.