Plant and soil scientists at UK's Lancaster University are working to combine X-rays and Diffusive Gradients in Thin Films technologies to provide farmers with faster and more accurate measurements of soil phosphorus availability.
Knowing the current phosphorus availability in soils, the researchers note, allows growers to make better fertilizer application decisions.
Dr. Shane Rothwell initiated the project after noticing that yields in pea and bean fields treated with appropriate levels of lime decreased by as much as 30%.
Rothwell demonstrated that the reduced crop growth was associated with lower plant phosphorus content but existing ways of measuring the phosphorus in soil available for plant uptake were not picking up on the problem.
The testing method he developed combines DGT, a technique developed by Lancaster Professor Hao Zhang, and portable X-ray technologies.
With access to better testing methods, the researchers expect fewer instances of fertilizer pollution.
"This research represents an exciting opportunity to develop new technologies that will make a real difference to how farmers manage phosphorus fertilizer applications to their crops," Zhang said.
"We hope this work will lead to the development of a commercial service that will allow farmers to make better informed decisions enabling them to more precisely and sustainably manage phosphorus on their land," Lancaster agronomist Dr. Ian Dodd added.