FFAR Grant Improves Soil Health Through Phosphorus Management
- Soil Health
WASHINGTON (January 6, 2021)— Phosphorus, a nutrient commonly found in manure and commercial fertilizers, is essential to plant growth. Despite phosphorus’ importance, there are relatively few studies examining the effect of soil health practices like cover cropping has on phosphorus availability. The Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research (FFAR) awarded Kansas State University a $490,541 Seeding Solutions grant to optimize phosphorus management strategies in cover crop systems, preventing costly overuse of fertilizer. The Kansas Soybean Commission, Kansas Department of Agriculture and Kansas Fertilizer Research Fund are providing $500,000 in matching funds for a $990,541 total investment.
“Farm management strategies that can reduce excessive fertilizer use are critical to protecting farmer profitability while maintaining high-quality yields. This research is developing efficient, cost effective strategies that promote soil health practices and reduce environmental strain.”Sally Rockey, Ph.D.
To maximize crop production, farmers monitor the level of phosphorus in the soil to ensure plants are absorbing enough phosphorus. Most farmers use a phosphorus management strategy known as “feed the soil,” which involves using more fertilizer at regular intervals to bolster phosphorus levels in the soil. This method maintains high soil fertility to ensure maximum yield but can increase production expenses and pose environmental concerns. If too much phosphorus is applied, rain or irrigation may wash it to nearby water bodies, causing contamination.
Overapplication of fertilizer may mask the benefits that healthy soil practices have on phosphorus cycling, the way phosphorus moves through soil and sediment. Phosphorus plays a crucial role in cell development and is a key component of molecules like DNA. When there is insufficient phosphorus in the soil, that can result in a decreased crop yield. However, soil health-promoting practices like using cover crops, non-harvested crops which help preserve the soil, could increase organic soil phosphorus quantities and cycling in soil, eliminating the need for excessive fertilizer application.
Kansas State University researchers are filling research gaps by studying how to cover crops and phosphorous management strategies interact to influence soil health. Over a five-year span, the research team is studying six soil treatments to determine the effect of cover crop planting and optimal timing and placement of fertilizer on soil health and water quality. By identifying mechanisms that affect phosphorus availability and cycling, Kansas State researchers are developing bold management strategies that enhance soil health, reduce environmental impacts and bolster farmer profitability.
“Understanding the impacts of soil health on P availability and cycling is key to identifying the fertilization strategies that will maintain soil productivity and protect water quality,” said Nathan Nelson, project director and Professor in the Kansas State University Department of Agronomy. “Our research will investigate the interactions between crop management, soil microbial communities, and phosphorus cycling. Information from our research will help farmers manage phosphorus fertilizer and protect water quality while also building soil health.”
This grant is funded through FFAR’s Seeding Solutions, a competitive grant program that supports research to solve urgent issues in any of our six Challenge Areas.
“Understanding the impacts of soil health on P availability and cycling is key to identifying the fertilization strategies that will maintain soil productivity and protect water quality. Our research will investigate the interactions between crop management, soil microbial communities, and phosphorus cycling. Information from our research will help farmers manage phosphorus fertilizer and protect water quality while also building soil health.”Dr. Nathan Nelson
Project Director and Professor in the Kansas State University Department of Agronomy
Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research
The Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research (FFAR) builds public-private partnerships to fund bold research addressing big food and agriculture challenges. FFAR was established in the 2014 Farm Bill to increase public agriculture research investments, fill knowledge gaps and complement USDA’s research agenda. FFAR’s model matches federal funding from Congress with private funding, delivering a powerful return on taxpayer investment. Through collaboration and partnerships, FFAR advances actionable science benefiting farmers, consumers and the environment.