Submitted to: Plant Sciences for Students
Publication Type: Book / Chapter
Publication Acceptance Date: 3/22/2000
Publication Date: 5/7/2001
Citation: Halvorson, A.D. 2001. Fertilizer. Plant Sciences for Students. Richard Robinson, ed. Macmillan Reference USA, New York, NY. Vol. 2, p. 135-137.
Interpretive Summary: This article provides a short, concise description of commercial fertilizer use in agricultural systems and compares its use to organic fertilizer sources such as animal manure, bio-solids, and other organic waste sources. Commercial fertilizers contain a guaranteed amount of nutrient. Commercial fertilizers are generally easier to manage in agricultural systems than organic sources because of the known amount of nutrient being applied and the immediate availability of the nutrient. Organic fertilizers need to go through a mineralization process to release many of the nutrients before they are available to the crop. Soil testing and/or plant analyses should be used to determine crop nutrient needs before applying fertilizers from any source. This will ensure efficient use of plant nutrients while maintaining high crop yields, crop quality and profitability, while preserving or enhancing environmental quality.
Technical Abstract: Plant nutrient inputs to agricultural systems are essential to enhance crop yield, crop quality, and economic returns. Commercial fertilizers are used to supply needed nutrients to crops. Nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K) fertilizers are used extensively. Other secondary and micronutrient fertilizers are required in smaller quantities to correct plant nutrient deficiencies. Commercial fertilizers contain a guaranteed quantity of nutrient. Fertilizers are available as solids, fluids, and gases which makes their handling and precise application very easy. Management of crop nutrient requirements is easier with commercial fertilizers than with organic fertilizers such as animal manures, bio-solid -products, and other organic waste products which requires a mineralization process to release many of the plant nutrients. Balancing the quantity of nutrient application with organic sources to match crop need is more difficult than with commercial fertilizers. Nutrient content of most organic sources is highly variable and needs to be determined before application to soils to avoid over application of some nutrients. Balancing crop nutrient needs using both inorganic commercial fertilizer and organic sources is an excellent way to avoid over application of plant nutrients. Soil and/or plant tissue testing should be used to determine crop nutrient needs before applying nutrients from any source. This will ensure efficient use of plant nutrients while maintaining high crop yields, crop quality and profitability, while preserving or enhancing environmental quality.