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ARS Home » Northeast Area » University Park, Pennsylvania » Pasture Systems & Watershed Management Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #353469

Research Project: Sustaining Agroecosystems and Water Resources in the Northeastern U.S.

Location: Pasture Systems & Watershed Management Research

Title: Celebrating the 350th anniversary of phosphorus discovery: a conundrum of deficiency and excess

item Sharpley, Andrew - University Of Arkansas
item Jarvie, Helen - Environment Agency
item Kleinman, Peter
item Flaten, Don - University Of Manitoba

Submitted to: Journal of Environmental Quality
Publication Type: Literature Review
Publication Acceptance Date: 6/7/2018
Publication Date: 6/7/2018
Citation: Sharpley, A., Jarvie, H., Kleinman, P.J., Flaten, D. 2018. Celebrating the 350th anniversary of phosphorus discovery: a conundrum of deficiency and excess. Journal of Environmental Quality.47:774-777. doi: 10.2134/jeq2018.05.0170.

Interpretive Summary: The discovery of phosphorus by the alchemist Hennig Brand in 1669 marked one of the first major achievements of science. Today, 350 years later, phosphorus is at the center of modern society. This paper reviews the past, present and future challenges for stewarding phosphorus into the future.

Technical Abstract: 2019 will be the 350th anniversary of the discovery of phosphorus (P) by the alchemist Henning Brand. This perspective traces the historical threads that P has weaved through the fabric of our society and identifies challenges to improve P stewardship in the future and for our future. A century after Brand’s discovery, P was identified in bone ash, becoming a primary source of P until guano and ultimately rock P was mined to provide the various mineral formulations used in today’s agriculture and society. A strategic shift in resource management ethics, from exploiting to conserving P resources is needed. For instance, remedial strategies should consider when agricultural conservation practices can transition from P sinks to sources with minor changes in land management or climate-driven hydrologic response. A broader, long-term vision and strategy for P stewardship is needed. This must include Reducing P loss in food and other wastes, Recovering P from waste streams, Reusing of P generated beneficial by-products, and Restructuring production systems. A key action to enact such changes will be collaboration across all sectors of society and the supply chain, from field to fork and beyond. As this will likely increase the cost of food, fiber, and feed production, it will require an innovative mix of public and private initiatives.