The addition of phosphorus fertilizer (plus other nutrients) has become essential for agriculture in Western Australia to remain sustainable. It’s a known fact that WA soils are some of the poorest in the world when it comes to phosphorus, however, our native plants have evolved and adapted to survive in these conditions.
Introduced plants, including agricultural crop and pasture species, have no such adaptations. As a result, they will not produce to their maximum potential or even survive without the addition of phosphorus in the form of fertilizer.
Role of phosphorus in plants
Phosphorus is essential to the health of plants. This mineral is a major component of the genetic material DNA, plus it’s involved in many of the biochemical processes critical for plant metabolism, such as photosynthesis and energy production. Its critical role in early growth is demonstrated by the lack of root growth seen in phosphorus deficient plants.
As demonstrated in this nutrient removal table, relatively small amounts of phosphorus are removed in grain.
Phosphorus in soils
Phosphorus is very mobile once within the plant, yet immobile in the soil. Once phosphorus from water-soluble fertilizers is dissolved into the soil solution, it quickly becomes ‘bound’ by iron, aluminium and calcium particles, rendering it less available to the plants for which it was intended. For this reason, crops sown with phosphorus-containing fertilizer are placed as close to the seed as possible to enable seedling uptake before adsorption into the soil particles takes place.
Given the major role phosphorus plays in plant metabolism, a deficiency will affect all aspects of growth. Plants lacking phosphorus will appear stunted, often with a reddish colouration on the stems. They will also have dark green leaves and dying leaf tips.
Preventing phosphorus deficiency
To prevent crop or pasture deficiencies, apply adequate rates of phosphorus-containing fertilizer either at seeding or prior to germination. An adequate rate can be established from a soil analysis, in conjunction with tissue testing.
Correcting phosphorus deficiency
Correcting a deficiency in an established crop is very difficult. This is due to the immobility of applied phosphorus, which would be bound by soil before getting into the root zone.
Supplying adequate phosphorus to the plant can be difficult in some soil types and some seasons. Recent research has highlighted the problem in soils with high phosphorus buffering index (PBI), particularly during dry seasons where the surface of the soil dries out early in the plants' life.
To find out more about preventing or correcting a phosphorus deficiency, speak to your local Area Manager.