Major changes in agricultural practices will be required to offset increases in nutrient losses due to climate change, according to research published by a Lancaster University-led team.
To combat repeated, damaging storm events, which strip agricultural land of soil and nutrients, farmers are already adopting measures to conserve these assets where they are needed.
But in a new paper in the journal Nature Communications, researchers investigating nutrients in runoff from agricultural land warn that phosphorus losses will increase, due to climate change, unless this is mitigated by making major changes to agricultural practices.
These changes could include a more judicious use of fertilizer including strategies to use soil phosphorus more efficiently, or physical measures to reduce the losses of nutrients from fields.
Professor Phil Haygarth of the Lancaster Environment Centre led the three-year, Natural Environment Research Council and DEFRA funded study.
He said: “The warmer, wetter winters predicted for the future will result in more phosphorus transferred from agricultural land into the rivers and ultimately the oceans. Although farmers are already doing what they can to prevent these losses, the currently adopted measures are not likely to be enough to offset the increase expected under climate change.”
“This paper should alert policy makers and government to the help and support that farmers will need to achieve the scale of agricultural change that may be necessary to keep up with the increase in pollution due to climate change.”
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