Phosphorus: indispensable for plants but harmful to water


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France - According to a study conducted by the Department of Ecology, phosphorus, which plays an indispensable role in the development of agricultural crops, would also degrade surface waters.

Phosphorus is essential to plant growth, but in excess it can degrade surface water," says a report published by the Department of observation and statistics (SOEs) of the General Commissariat for sustainable development.

In every fertilizers, manure, industrial or livestock, phosphorus is necessary for crop development. But according to a study conducted by the Ministry of Ecology, 9% of this nutrient is released into the waters every year, half from agriculture. It has thus contributed to the eutrophication of surface waters, as well as excess nitrates.

And if the use of mineral fertilizers decreased by two thirds since 1970, this decline is "not by a concomitant decrease in phosphorus in the soil" laments the report. On the contrary, in regions such as Brittany, Loire and Aquitaine, the level of phosphorus in agricultural soils has increased in 43% of the cantons studied.

"The balance of phosphorus in agricultural soils is a major issue of reducing the environmental impact: it requires a balance between yield and optimum fertilization limited in time and space, as well as improving the recycling of phosphorus in the treatment of sewage sludge" concludes the SOEs.

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