Whether you are growing prize-wining vegetables or managing a pasture for healthy livestock, it is important to have a basic understanding of nutrient management. Plants need an adequate soil supply of nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, sulfur, calcium, magnesium and seven micronutrients. If any of these essential nutrients are in short supply plants will show deficiency symptoms such as stunted growth, discolored leaves, and higher susceptibility to disease.
When plants are harvested and removed from the system, the nutrients they absorb from the soil are lost and need to be replaced. In natural systems, dead plants and leaves, animal manures, and other organic wastes return nutrients to the soil as they decompose and are recycled. In agricultural systems it is important to carefully manage the nutrients that are removed from, and added to, the system.
When it comes to fertilizer, more is not always better!
When nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus (in the form of nitrates and phosphates) get into our drinking water or streams and rivers, they can be very damaging to human and environmental health. “Eutrophication” occurs when excess nutrients from fertilizers, manure, or sewage make their way into streams and lakes. The results are algal blooms and “dead zones” where most aquatic life cannot survive due to lack of oxygen.
There are many helpful nutrient management resources, depending on your region and the type of crops you are growing.