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Keywords:

  • Phosphorus;
  • phosphate fertilizer;
  • inter-laboratory comparisons;
  • calibration;
  • recommendation;
  • soil-P tests

Abstract

The procedure for applying phosphorus (P) fertilizer to soil can be divided into three consecutive steps: (i) Measurement of soil-P availability, (ii) calibration of the soil-P fertility level and (iii) estimation of the recommended P dose. Information on each of these steps was obtained for 18 European countries and regions with the aim of comparing P fertilizer recommendation systems at the European scale. We collected information on P fertilizer recommendations through conventional or grey literature, and personal contacts with researchers, laboratories and advisory services. We found much variation between countries for each of the three steps: There are more than 10 soil-P tests currently in use, apparent contradictions in the interpretation of soil-P test values and more than 3-fold differences in the P fertilizer recommendations for similar soil-crop situations. This last result was confirmed by conducting a simple experimental inter-laboratory comparison. Moreover, soil properties (pH, clay content) and crop species characteristics (P responsiveness) are used in some countries in the calibration and recommendation steps, but in different ways. However, there are also common characteristics: soil-P availability is determined in all countries by extraction with chemical reagents and the calibration of the soil-P test values, and the fertilizer recommendations are based on the results from empirical field trials. Moreover, the fertilizer recommendations are nearly all based on the amount of P exported in the crops. As long as rational scientific and theoretical backgrounds are lacking, there is no point in trying to synchronize the different chemical methods used. We therefore call for a mechanistic approach in which the processes involved in plant P nutrition are truly reproduced by a single standard method or simulated by sorption-desorption models.