Crop production in the Brazilian Cerrado is limited by soil phosphorus (P) supply without large inputs of inorganic P fertilizer, which may become more costly and scarce in the future. Reducing dependency on fertilizer P requires a greater understanding of soil P supply in the highly weathered soils in this important agricultural region. We investigated the impact of no tillage (NT) and conventional tillage (CT) agriculture on accumulated (legacy) soil P and P forms in four long-term sites. Compared to the native savanna soils, tilled soils receiving regular annual P fertilizer inputs (30-50 kg P ha(-1)) increased all forms of inorganic and organic P, except highly recalcitrant P associated with the background lithology. However, 70-85% of the net added P was bound in moderately labile and non-labile forms associated with Fe/Al oxyhydroxides rather than in plant available forms. Under NT agriculture, organic P forms and labile and non-labile inorganic P forms were all significantly (P<0.05) increased in the surface soil, except for one site with maize residues where labile inorganic P was increased more under CT agriculture. The contribution of organic P cycling in these tropical soils increased after conversion to agriculture and was proportionally greater under NT. The results highlight the large amounts of unutilized legacy P present in Brazil's Cerrado soils that could be better exploited to reduce dependency on imports of finite phosphate rock. No tillage agriculture confers a positive albeit relatively small benefit for soil P availability and overall soil function.
Keywords: Brazilian savanna; Cerrado; Inorganic P; No tillage; Organic P; Phosphorus fractionation.
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