Excessive phosphate fertilizer use can reduce microbial functions critical to crop health

19th March 2019

Scientists set out to determine if nutrient history changed the function of soil microorganisms. The answer seems to be yes, and that soil treated with high amounts of phosphate can result in poorer plant performance, but even more intriguing, it appears that the soil microorganisms from this conditioned soil can negatively impact plant yield.

Phosphorus is crucial for plant growth -- with it, plants can acquire, transfer, and store the energy that helps them flourish in full health. Without it, plants flounder: they're stunted, discolored, and produce low yields. For this reason, farmers and gardeners often apply phosphate fertilizers (P-fertilizer) to increase the amount of phosphorus in their soil. However, a recent study finds that excessive P-fertilizer may actually hurt the plants it is trying to help by altering the composition and function of the microbes in the soil.

In a study published in the fully open access Phytobiomes Journal, a team of scientists led by Drs Terrence Bell and Jenny Kao-Kniffin at Penn State University set out to determine if nutrient history changed the function of soil microorganisms -- that is, could multiple generations of nutrient application and microbial transfer separate the impacts of nutrients and soil microorganisms on crop health. The answer seems to be yes, and that soil treated with high amounts of phosphate can result in poorer plant performance, but even more intriguing, it appears that the soil microorganisms from this conditioned soil can negatively impact plant yield.

The full article can be read here