Phosphorus stocks and flows in an intensive livestock dominated food system

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.
Publication history: Accepted - 21 July 2020; Published online - 31 July 2020.
Phosphorus, Substance flow analysis, Food system, Livestock, Northern Ireland
Rothwell, S. A., Doody, D. G., Johnston, C., Forber, K. J., Cencic, O., Rechberger, H. and Withers, P. J. A. (2020) ‘Phosphorus stocks and flows in an intensive livestock dominated food system’, Resources, Conservation and Recycling. Elsevier BV, 163, p. 105065. doi: 10.1016/j.resconrec.2020.105065.