Feed the crop not the soil: rethinking phosphorus management in the food chain

Environ Sci Technol. 2014 Jun 17;48(12):6523-30. doi: 10.1021/es501670j. Epub 2014 Jun 3.


Society relies heavily on inorganic phosphorus (P) compounds throughout its food chain. This dependency is not only very inefficient and increasingly costly but is depleting finite global reserves of rock phosphate. It has also left a legacy of P accumulation in soils, sediments and wastes that is leaking into our surface waters and contributing to widespread eutrophication. We argue for a new, more precise but more challenging paradigm in P fertilizer management that seeks to develop more sustainable food chains that maintain P availability to crops and livestock but with reduced amounts of imported mineral P and improved soil function. This new strategy requires greater public awareness of the environmental consequences of dietary choice, better understanding of soil-plant-animal P dynamics, increased recovery of both used P and unutilized legacy soil P, and new innovative technologies to improve fertilizer P recovery. In combination, they are expected to deliver significant economic, environmental, and resource-protection gains, and contribute to future global P stewardship.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Conservation of Natural Resources
  • Crops, Agricultural / growth & development*
  • Fertilizers
  • Food Chain*
  • Phosphorus / isolation & purification*
  • Recycling
  • Soil / chemistry*
  • Waste Management / methods*


  • Fertilizers
  • Soil
  • Phosphorus