Closing the phosphorus loop in England: The spatio-temporal balance of phosphorus capture from manure versus crop demand for fertiliser

Anna Bateman, Dan van der Horst, David Boardman, Arun Kansal, Cynthia Carliell-Marquet

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Every year 90 million tonnes of housed livestock manures are produced in the UK. This is a valuable reservoir of global phosphorus (P) and a point in the cycle where it is vulnerable to being lost from the terrestrial system. Improved manure management for the effective reuse of phosphorus is vital to simultaneously tackle a major source of water pollution and reduce our dependence on imported fertilisers. This paper quantifies, for the first time, the spatial and temporal challenges of recycling the required amount of manure P from areas of livestock production to areas of crop production in eight regions of England. The analysis shows that England has a P deficit and therefore the capacity to fully utilise the manure P on arable land, but that uneven spatial distribution of livestock poses a significant challenge to closing the P loop in agriculture. Two of the eight regions were shown to have surplus manure P, with the remaining six regions having P deficits, indicating that an annual export of 4.7 thousand tonnes P (2.8 million tonnes manure) must take place from the west to the east of the country each year to balance P supply and demand. Moreover, housed manure production peaks between October and February, requiring an excess of 23.0 thousand tonnes P (15 million tonnes manure) to be stored until it can be used for crop fertilisation from March onwards. The results demonstrate the scale of the challenge in managing manure P in an agricultural system that has separated livestock production from crop production, a pattern that is echoed throughout the developed world. To overcome the spatial and temporal challenges, a logistical system is recommended that will balance the nutrient potential (nitrogen and P content and availability) and pollution potential (eutrophication, greenhouse gas emissions, particulates and nitrous oxide from transport) for cost-effective and environmentally compatible redistribution of manure P from areas of surplus to areas of deficit, when required.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1146– 1153
Number of pages8
JournalResources, Conservation and Recycling
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2011


  • Phosphorus
  • Livestock manure
  • Fertiliser
  • Sustainability

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