• Soil Phosphorus, Cattle Stocking Rates, and Water Quality in Subtropical Pastures in Florida, USA

      Capece, John C.; Campbell, Kenneth L.; Behlen, Patrick J.; Graetz, Donald A.; Portier, Kenneth M. (Society for Range Management, 2007-01-01)
      Minimizing nonpoint source nutrient pollution is important to the sustainability of grazing lands. Increased nutrient loads have reduced water quality in Lake Okeechobee in south Florida, prompting establishment of a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) that will require large reductions in phosphorus (P) runoff into the lake. A significant portion of this reduction must come from beef cattle ranches, the major land use in the region. A large-scale research project, consisting of a 420-ha array of 8 improved summer and 8 semi-improved winter pastures, was established from 1998-2003 to investigate the influence of beef cattle stocking rate on nutrient loads in surface runoff. Each pasture type had two replicates of four different cattle stocking rates including a control with no cattle and stocked pastures with low, medium, and high stocking rates (1.3, 1.0, 0.6 ha AU-1 [animal unit] in summer pastures; 2.1, 1.6, and 0.9 ha AU-1 in winter pastures). Cattle stocking rate did not affect nutrient concentrations or loads in surface runoff during the study period. Average annual P discharges were 1.71 kg ha-1 from summer pastures and 0.25 kg ha-1 from winter pastures. Average total P concentrations in runoff were 0.63 mg L-1 for summer pastures and 0.15 mgL-1 for winter pastures. Differences in runoff P were related to differences in soil P test results, a difference believed to be due to prior fertilization practices. Our findings show that reducing cattle stocking rates on beef cattle pastures is not an effective practice for reducing nutrient loads, and that accumulation of P in soil from historical fertilization has an overriding influence on P loads in surface runoff. Results indicate that reducing the overall volume of surface discharges would be a more effective strategy than altering cattle stocking practices to reduce nonpoint runoff of P from cattle pastures in this region.