Science of Soil Nutrition
Discover why trace elements are so important for healthy soil
You need all key elements in your soil
A lot of the time, the farmer’s budget is gone by the time they’ve applied phosphate, as it’s one of the most expensive nutrients on a kilo basis, and the other elements are neglected. But they are so important.
For healthy pasture growth you need 13 elements and a further 3 for animal health. Generally farmers only apply nitrogen, phosphate, sulphur and potassium. Over application of those kinds of minerals can do a lot of damage. Liming is important to manage soil acidity, this impacts pasture growth and animal health.
Gordon Rajendram Ph.D.
Independent Soil Scientist
Nitrogen is one of the most widely distributed elements in nature and it’s the most abundant gas in the atmosphere. Soil-based N undergoes many complex biological transformations that make it challenging to manage.
Nitrogen supports plant growth and encourages the healthy development of foliage and fruit.
The function of phosphorus in plants is very important. It helps a plant convert other nutrients into usable building blocks with which to grow. Phosphorus is one of the main three nutrients most commonly found in fertilisers.
Phosphorus is essential to a plant’s growth.
Potassium is essential in nearly all processes needed to sustain plant growth and reproduction. Plants deficient in potassium are less resistant to drought, excess water, and high and low temperatures.
Potassium improves the overall health of growing plants and helps them fight against disease, it is known as the “quality” nutrient.
Calcium is an essential nutrient that carries a heavy load in plant growth. Calcium, along with magnesium and potassium, helps to neutralise organic acids, which form during cell metabolism in plants.
Calcium also plays a role in other key plant functions, such as the absorption of other nutrients by roots and their translocation within the plant.
Energy is required for proper plant growth. Crops require magnesium to capture the sun’s energy for growth and production through photosynthesis. Magnesium is also an essential component of the chlorophyll molecule.
Magnesium is essential for phosphate metabolism, plant respiration and the activation of several enzyme systems.
Sulphur is supplied to plants from the soil by organic matter and minerals, but it is often present in insufficient quantities.
Sulphur is part of every living cell and required for synthesis of certain amino acids and proteins. Sulphur is also important in photosynthesis and crop winter hardiness.
Most farmers disregard the sodium level in their soil, unless there is too much. Sodium levels can, however, have impact on production. Excess sodium indicates poor soil structure and can potentially reduce the uptake of other nutrients by plants.
Supports cell membranes
Boron is one of the most important micronutrients affecting membrane stability. Boron supports the structural and functional integrity of plant cell membranes. Other functions include the maintenance of the plasma membrane and other metabolic pathways.
Iron is essential for crop growth and food production. Plants take up Iron as the ferrous (Fe2+) cation. Iron is a component of many enzymes associated with energy transfer, nitrogen reduction and fixation, and lignin formation.
Plant and animal health
Small amounts of cobalt are essential for good health. A lack of cobalt in a form which plants or organisms are able to absorb can have major effects on the health of the animals in an area. Cobalt in soil is also necessary for the healthy functioning of some plants.
Zinc was one of the first micronutrients recognized as essential for plants and the one most commonly limiting yields. Although Zinc is required only in small amounts, high yields are impossible without it. In plants, Zinc is a key constituent of many enzymes and proteins. It plays an important role in a wide range of processes, such as growth hormone production and internode elongation.
Plant and animal health