The pig and poultry industries continue to grow across the world and together they provide the majority of meat consumed. The European Union (EU) in particular has the highest global relative meat production by monogastrics (i.e., pig and poultry).

The fate of phosphorus (P) in pig and poultry farming was studied, accounting for P content in feed, animals, manure, soil, and runoff. P input from manure, and P offtake in crops receiving manure, were plotted against each other to arrive at “safe” P loading rates, in order to minimize soil P surpluses along the lines of the EU Nitrogen Expert Panel in their work with nitrogen (N). However, it was observed that it is the N/P ratio and the background soil P levels that determine whether a certain manure will end up producing surplus levels of soil P.

Critical N/P weight ratios were derived over different crop P offtake rates when applying stored manure to croplands. At spreading rates of 170 and 250 kgN/ha/year and a crop P offtake of 15 or 30 kgP/ha/year, stored pig and chicken manure result in soil P surpluses.

An important factor in determining effective N/P ratios is the plant availability of N in stored manure, which runs at around 47%, estimated from previously published results. The minimization of N losses to the atmosphere and to groundwater in housing, storage, and spreading of manure has a major impact on the N/P weight ratio of the manure that ends up on fields. In most cases, half of the ex-animal N content has been lost in stored or degraded manure, with N/P weight ratios running at two and less.

Following only the EU Nitrates Directive, which allows for a maximum of 170 kgN/ha/year in NVZs (Nitrate Vulnerable Zones), will often result in soil P surpluses leading to runoff losses to adjacent water bodies. Therefore, for the pig and poultry industries to continue thriving, measures are required to better manage manure, including improved storage and spreading techniques, acidification, separation, struvite extraction and ammonia stripping of pig slurry, and drying and pelleting of poultry litter. This way, excess manure and derived biofertilizers from animal farms can find their way back into the commercial market, instead of ending up as legacy P in watersheds and coastal zones.