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Balanced Crop Nutrition For Plants And People
By Anita Foster, Corporate Responsibility Manager, The Mosaic Company
Anita is a member of the Global Harvest Initiative Steering Committee, a group of up-and-coming leaders from GHI’s member companies.
|For more on the importance of soil fertility and balanced crop nutrition in the U.S. and Zambia, read GHI’s 2015 Global Agricultural Productivity® (GAP Report®): Building Sustainable Breadbaskets|
With each year’s planting and harvest, the essential nutrients — nitrogen (N), phosphorous (P) and potassium (K) — must be replenished for optimum plant growth and health. The natural replenishment cycle is often slow and generally unable to keep up with the annual agriculture cycle. And with every harvest the soil is further depleted of nutrients. As a result, growers use fertilizer to rebuild, adjust and sustain optimal nutrients in soil.
Plants need the right balance of nutrients
The growing process is a series of complex chemical and plant interactions. So understanding conditions at the micro level is crucial. Like a doctor’s checkup, a soil test shows farmers what fertility treatment is needed for the selected seeds and crop types.
When even one part of the crop nutrient equation is out of balance, it has a domino-like effect on yield. In agronomy, the “Law of the Minimum” is in effect. That is, if just one essential plant nutrient is deficient, then plant growth and crop yield suffers.
Each nutrient has a role. Nitrogen has been called “the superstar” and it is heavily subsidized for farmers in some parts of the world. In contrast, crops often suffer a “hidden hunger” for phosphorus, “the energizer,” and potassium, “the regulator,” which greatly affects yield. If a crop needs P and K, applying only N will leave the crop malnourished.
The right nutrient source applied at the right rate, at the right time, and in the right place is critical to managing soil fertility and optimizing plant growth and health.
Balanced crop nutrition makes food more nutritious
Balanced nutrition isn’t just for plants; micronutrients are essential to human health, too. For example, among the most important nutrients for both humans and plants is zinc. When soil is zinc deficient, farmers experience a decrease in crop yields of up to 40 percent, and most devastatingly, the plants cannot pass zinc on to the population through diet. In people, zinc deficiency comprises the metabolism and weakens the immune system. The World Health Organization estimates that zinc deficiency contributes to 800,000 deaths per year – particularly in areas where the soil and crops are also deficient in zinc.
Mosaic collaborates with plant breeders, agronomists, nutritionists and farmers to improve the zinc nutritional status of cereal crops through agronomic biofortification, a process that increases micronutrient levels in crops. Mosaic also developed MicroEssentials® SZ™, a custom fertilizer rich in sulfur and zinc that increases yields and grain nutritional quality, which has the potential to reduce the effects of zinc deficiency and improve human health and wellbeing.
Thanks to innovations such as biofortification, growers around the world, operating at all scales, have the opportunity to maximize existing farm land and scarce water resources to responsibly produce harvest that is both plentiful and nutritious.