Soil Nutrients and Phosphorus: The Molecular View


[Light, electronic music fades in.] [Light, electronic music fades in.] Dr. Barbara Cade-Menun: My name is Dr. Barbara Cade-Menun… …and I am a nutrient cycling scientist… …based in Swift Current, Saskatchewan. Well nutrient cycling is when… …nutrients are taken up by plants and then eventually… …returned back to the soil where they’re broken down again… …during the process of decomposition. Phosphorus is and essential element. It’s required for all organisms for life. It’s part of our DNA, it’s part of what gives us energy. In Saskatchewan our soils are naturally high in phosphorus… …because they’ve developed on the Prairies with a lot of nutrient enrichment going back in… …from the grasses that were there. But as we start growing successive crops… …we draw down our supplies of readily available phosphorus. We have a lot of phosphorus there it’s just not in a form that the plant can take up. Phosphorus fertilizer is a limited resource because it’s mined from rocks. And so we’re going to run out of it at some point. What we need to do is to start recapturing… …what is lost in waste from manure and human sewage sludge. We may not necessarily want to apply sludge directly… …but why can’t we recapture that phosphorus chemically… …and find some way to convert that back… …into the fertilizer pellets that we know. We can be much more strategic about what we apply… …but we can also explore other forms of phosphorus that are there… …getting plants to use the native forms of phosphorus… …instead of importing something… …or microbes that may help the plants use more. Narrator: The development of Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy technology… …has allowed Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada scientists… …to understand phosphorus at a molecular level. By understanding the cycle, researchers get a complete picture of how phosphorus moves… …and thus get a better understanding of how to manage phosphorus more effectively. The goal is to make phosphorus usage more efficient and environmentally friendly… …by reducing the amount of phosphorus lost each year from agricultural lands due to water runoff. This soil research is made possible by a partnership between AAFC… …and the Saskatchewan Structural Sciences Centre at the University of Saskatchewan. With a probe purchased by the department Dr. Cade-Menun uses the nuclear magnetic resonance machines… …at the University to test her soil and runoff samples. Dr. Barbara Cade-Menun: We can take a sample and put it in a tube. So we’re concentrating the phosphorus. We put it in a tube and then into the machine and that allows us to generate… …a spectrum which identifies the specific forms of phosphorus that are in there. Understanding ways to try to use… …exactly what we need in the form that we need it… ..will help to make our fertilizer use more efficient. Narrator: Knowing how to use phosphorus fertilizers more efficiently… …and understanding how a plant uses existing soil phosphorus… …will help us to minimize phosphorus loss from agricultural lands, thereby minimizing the impacts… …of agriculture on the environment all while saving farmers money. To learn more, check out our other videos on soil science in Canada. [Light, electronic music fades out.]

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