Submitted to: Encyclopedia of Soil Science
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 4/22/2016
Publication Date: 9/15/2016
Citation: Delgado, J.A. 2016. Nutrient management. Encyclopedia of Soil Science. Third edition. CRC Press. doi:10.1081/E-ESS3-120053859.
Interpretive Summary: “Nutrient management is the science and art directed to link soil, crop, weather and hydrologic factors with cultural, irrigation and soil and water conservation practices to achieve the goals of optimizing nutrient use efficiency, yields, crop quality, and economic returns, while reducing off-site transport of nutrients that may impact the environment”1. Although this sounds like a simple task, it is very difficult to work with natural agroecosystems and spatial variability of soil, including variabilities in soil chemical, physical and biological properties. These variabilities, together with temporal and spatial variabilities of weather (e.g., temperature, precipitation, etc.) influence plant physiological responses as well as responses from weeds, pests, and diseases that could also impact crop yield and quality. Even the management of nutrients at a site-specific location and how the field is managed a given year, will impact the cycling of nutrients and/or residual nutrients in a given year, impacting nutrient availability and yield responses the following year. The crop rotation, the use of a cover crop, applications of manures, and how the soil is tilled, are examples of management practices that will impact the soil biological, physical and chemical properties and nutrient cycling and management the following year. Nutrient management is not a simple task; even management practices that may reduce losses of an element in a given pathway (e.g., volatilization, surface runoff), may increase losses of the same nutrient or another nutrient via another mechanism (e.g., leaching). Nutrient management is a skillful task of matching the nutrient demands of a crop with the nutrient sources during the growing season considering site-specific field soil properties, the site-specific climate, and crop management practices. With that said, nutrient management is key for agricultural production and for food security and global stability, since supplying and/or managing essential crop nutrients is an important way to increase yields and crop quality and contribute to economically viable systems.
Technical Abstract: Nutrient management has been defined as “the science and art directed to link soil, crop, weather and hydrologic factors with cultural, irrigation and soil and water conservation practices to achieve the goals of optimizing nutrient use efficiency, yields, crop quality, and economic returns, while reducing off-site transport of nutrients that may impact the environment”1. Nutrient management will be one of the most important tools in efforts to achieve food security during the 21st century and feed the increasing population with growing demand for higher-protein diets. At the same time, improved nutrient management will also contribute significantly to addressing other environmental challenges of the globe by reducing losses of nutrients to the environment. We are at currently at a crossroads in the development of nutrient management technology that allows for rapid analysis of large databases for precision farming, but the best pathway ahead to increase nutrient use efficiencies and minimize the losses of nutrients involves incorporation of precision conservation to increase conservation effectiveness across the landscape for air, soil, and water quality. We need to increase the communication and cooperation among nutrient managers and conservation practices to implement a 7Rs approach to apply the “right product, right rate, right method, right practice, right place, right scale, and right time: the 7 Rs of nutrient management and conservation)” to maximize nutrient use efficiencies, decrease losses of nutrients to the environment, and reduce their transport across the landscape.