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Phosphorus (P) export from agricultural lands above known threshold levels can result in adverse impacts to receiving water quality. Phosphorus loss occurs in dissolved and sediment-bound, or particulate phosphorous (PP), forms, with the latter often dominating losses from row-cropped systems. To target practices, land managers need good computer models and model developers need good monitoring data. Sediment monitoring data (e.g. radiometric finger printing and sediment P sorption capacity) can help identify sediment source areas and improve models, but require more sediment mass than is typically obtained by automatic sampling. This study compares a simple suspended sediment sampler developed at the University of Exeter (UE) with automatic sampling in intermittent channels draining corn and alfalfa fields. The corn field had a greater runoff coefficient (27%) than alfalfa (11%). No differences were found in enrichment ratios (sediment constituent/soil constituent) in PP (PPER) or percent loss on ignition (LOIER) between paired UE samplers on corn. The median LOIER for the UE samplers (1·9%) did not differ significantly (p > 0·13) from the automatic sampler (2·0%). The PPER from the UE samplers was on average 20% lower than the automatic samplers. A correlation (r2 = 0·75) was found between sediment PP and % LOI from automatic samplers and UE samplers for particles < 50 μm, while for > 50 μm PP concentration did not change with changes in % LOI. Sediment ammonium-oxalate extractable metals were similarly related to LOI, with the strongest correlation for iron (r2 = 0·71) and magnesium (r2 = 0·70). Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.