Research to Focus on Potassium Deficiency

Joint Initiative Between IFA, UNL to Study Potassium Fertilizer Deficiency

Russ Quinn
By  Russ Quinn , DTN Staff Reporter
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A new project between the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the International Fertilizer Association aims to learn more about potassium fertilizer deficiency in crops across the world. (DTN/Progressive Farmer file photo by Jim Patrico)

OMAHA (DTN) -- The University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) and the International Fertilizer Association (IFA) have started a joint initiative to fill the knowledge gap about the extent and severity of potassium fertilizer deficiency. The two-year project will compile and analyze global data on potassium, sometimes called potash, for major crop systems around the world, according to a UNL press release.

Patrico Grassini, professor of agronomy and horticulture at UNL and one of the project's principal investigators, said that this new data will enable many crop-growing regions to understand and address their potassium-related crop challenges. That progress can help advance the crop yields needed to meet the world's growing food demand.

"This collaborative project will provide essential input to national agricultural research and extension programs on how to improve crop production through better nutrient management and fertilizer recommendations," Grassini said. "The project ultimately can bring benefits to a wide range of stakeholders, including farmers, researchers, policymakers and the agri-food sector."

Walter Carciochi, a postdoctoral research associate in agronomy and horticulture at UNL, is coordinating the project's outreach to a wide range of leading researchers in multiple countries to compile the needed data.

The project will use a variety of methods to diagnose potassium deficiencies, including on-farm nutrient balances, soil and plant analyses and potassium omission trials, he said. Initially, the project will focus on the main cropping systems in South and North America, South Asia, East Asia, Southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

"We suspect that we will find potassium to be limiting crop yield and quality in many of these regions," Carciochi said.

Grassini added it does not happen every day that a wide range of researchers from the public and private sectors work together under the umbrella of a global project.

IFA is very excited to collaborate with the UNL team, according to Achim Dobermann, chief scientist with IFA, co-principal lead of the project and a former professor of soil science and nutrient management at UNL.

"This initiative starts not only from our interest as agronomists to help increase crop yields globally but also as an opportunity from the fertilizer industry to identify new markets for potassium," Dobermann said.

Dobermann said he is concerned about potassium levels being depleted in the soil and no longer meeting the needs of crops, so fertilizers need to be added that have this essential nutrient.

The research project is supported by seven major fertilizer companies: Nutrien, Mosaic, K+S, ICL, Anglo American, BHP and Arab Potash.

Grassini said, "This collaboration provides the opportunity for a helicopter view of the whole situation on potassium limitation, and where it is important to prioritize our investments in research and development in both the public and private sectors to overcome this limitation."

The project is just in its initial stage as researchers gather information to build the database, Carciochi explained.

Longer term, researchers believe a "traffic light" guidance strategy could be used for deficiency of the nutrient. Red would indicate the highest level of potassium concern; yellow, a lesser level; and green, minimal concern.

The researchers are inviting colleagues at other universities, research institutes, analytical labs and companies to collaborate with the initiative by sharing any potassium-related data they may have -- including farmer data, fertilizer trials, and soil and plant analyses.

"By putting all the data together, we will be able to determine if and when potassium is becoming the next barrier to increase crop yields," Carciochi said.

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Russ Quinn