Plant roots are able to sense soil nutrient availability. In order to acquire heterogeneously distributed water and minerals, they optimize their root architecture. One poorly understood plant response to soil phosphate (P(i)) deficiency is a reduction in primary root growth with an increase in the number and length of lateral roots. Here we show that physical contact of the Arabidopsis thaliana primary root tip with low-P(i) medium is necessary and sufficient to arrest root growth. We further show that loss-of-function mutations in Low Phosphate Root1 (LPR1) and its close paralog LPR2 strongly reduce this inhibition. LPR1 was previously mapped as a major quantitative trait locus (QTL); the molecular origin of this QTL is explained by the differential allelic expression of LPR1 in the root cap. These results provide strong evidence for the involvement of the root cap in sensing nutrient deficiency, responding to it, or both. LPR1 and LPR2 encode multicopper oxidases (MCOs), highlighting the essential role of MCOs for plant development.