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Maintaining soil fertility

Maintaining soil fertility

Constant removal of nutrients without replacing them through fertilization will lead to soil mining. This means there will be a depletion of nutrients, mainly potassium and phosphorus, affecting yields and long-term soil fertility. Omitting phosphorus and potassium application is a false economy; both nutrients need to be applied regularly in order to prevent reduced yields in the future.

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Figure shows that maize yields increase due to P fertilization even on soils with sufficient P supply (medium).
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The lower the K supply in the soil, the bigger the effect of the K fertilization on the yield.
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The lower the P supply in the soil, the bigger the effect of the P fertilization on the yield.
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Even if phosphorus and potassium fertilization increases yields only to a small extent on adequately supplied soils, it is still advisable to replenish these nutrients, which are removed by the harvest. By doing so this maintains soil fertility at a high level and requires only moderate amounts of P and K fertilization (offtake by the harvests). 


Only a very small percentage of the total potassium and phosphorus in the soils are available for crop uptake. The majority of these nutrients become slowly available in the long-term. Fertilized P and K also slowly replenish these exchangeable and non-exchangeable pools. Therefore, a sufficient P and K supply in the soil solution is only secured when the soil stocks of these elements are adequately high. This is why the depletion of these elements has long-lasting consequences on yields and it is impossible to reach previous yield levels even with adequate fertilization once the P- and K-level in the soil is low. 

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Decline of yields with declining soil K supply (CAL extraction). Fertilizing does not fully compensate for the yield loss (LFL Agrarökologie, 2008).
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Decline of yields with declining soil P supply (CAL extraction). Fertilizing does not fully compensate for the yield loss (LFL Agrarökologie, 2008).
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Phosphorus and potassium fertilization is based on the off take of crops in a rotation and considers the following: 

  • Crop requirements
  • P and K content in the soil
  • Fertilization history 
  • Restitution of crop residues

Fertilizers are essential for production, boosting both quantity and quality and making a major impact on farming revenue.