NORTH DAKOTA (KXNET) — To be able to continue farming successfully, we have to talk about sustainability.

Because the more we interact with the land, the more key elements in the soil disappear from the landscape.

Wednesday, we discuss the element phosphorus and its importance to our crops and soil.

For starters, what is phosphorus? 

Phosphorus is a chemical element with the symbol P and atomic number 15. It’s needed for the growth, maintenance, and repair of all tissues and cells, and for the production of the genetic building blocks, DNA and RNA.

But how is it needed in our crops and soil?

“So, the element phosphorus is one of the pretty limited numbers of elements that are essential to plant growth. They can’t grow. They can’t reproduce. They can’t go through their life cycle without it. It’s used in any reaction that happens in the plant. Phosphorus is the main energy mechanism in order for a reaction to go. It has to overcome a chemical energy barrier, and the phosphorus molecules combine with others in the plant and animals.” said NDSU Soil Specialist, Dr. Dave Franzen. 

Here in North Dakota, Dr. Franzen says that crops high in phosphorus with no extra incentives needed, regardless of what a soil test may say, is the old-school seed flax and the beloved sunflower.

But the potato has the least amount of phosphorus, which requires a whole lot of it just to get them to grow and produce sufficiently.

“Plants don’t produce phosphorus, they take it up from the soil. It’s all soil-driven, so any phosphorus plant has its origin in the soil,” said Dr. Franzen.

In North Dakota, we don’t have phosphorus in the form of phosphate rock at our disposal, like in Idaho, Wyoming, and even Florida.

In those spots, phosphorus can be damaged by tilling and plowing of the soil. 

Being that we don’t have natural phosphorus here, our primary source is through fertilizer, the most commonly used is Monoammonium Phosphate.

“The main phosphorus loss that we have is either exporting the grain away from where it was grown to other countries and other states or most often when the wind erosion is horrible around here, so the wind can carry, the wind has carried vast amounts of phosphorus off this land since it was plowed in the 1880s,” said Dr.Franzen.

Well, Dr. Franzen, how do we protect it for the longevity of our crops and soils?

“We can stop the soil from blowing and people can build their soil back to a more productive level by something called, ‘No-Till,’ where the stubble residue that’s left on the soil isn’t disturbed and then you plant onto it the next year,” he told us. 

Without phosphorus, photosynthesis could not occur. 

Phosphorus plays a key role in complex energy transformations that are necessary to all life.

In the following weeks, KX will be in the lab going over nitrogen, carbon, and potassium.