Zero Phosphorous – What Does All This Really Mean?

By Mike McCarthy, Regional Sales Manager

Reams of bureaucratic paperwork have been created to support the 12 states that have banned phosphorus fertilizer use. Among these states are: Florida, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin. The banning of phosphorus started in Minnesota in the year 2002. Reportedly, the high phosphorus levels were harming the aquatic life, causing excessive algae and aquatic plant growth. Fertilizer runoff and sewage discharges are the cause of higher phosphate levels in the water. This runoff comes from yards, golf courses, gardens, etc. and runs into the surrounding ponds, creeks, rivers and bays. The overabundance of phosphate causes lower oxygen levels in the water harming fish and other aquatic animals.

The problem of high phosphate levels in water has evolved to more than just harming aquatic animals. “A 2010 interagency report of the National Science and Technology Council’s Committee on Environment and Natural Resources (in which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) participated) warns that declining oxygen levels in U.S. waters are forming low-oxygen “dead zones” and destroying habitats” (Miller). This issue is becoming a bigger problem to us as well, causing our own water to become “dangerous” with high levels of phosphate.

The best way to approach this sensitive issue/topic was to let an expert take it from here:  perhaps many of you know Corey Angelo, Consultant/owner of Soil & Water Consulting now based in Hoboken, N.J. Corey started in golf course management after graduating from SUNY at Cobleskill, NY and later becoming a superintendent then moving and establishing his west coast business based in Las Vegas in 2005. So I asked Corey the question, “what does all this really mean” and rather than plagiarizing and/or abbreviating his comments, below is his direct quote:
“The uptake of phosphorus by plants in soils occurs through plant adsorption of the orthophosphate anion that is found in the soil solution. However, due to the complex chemistry of the soil, the amount of water soluble P that is actually available for plant uptake at any given time in the soil solution is exceptionally small. As a result, once phosphorus has been depleted from the soil solution it has to be replenished from soil phosphorus reserves. Interestingly, the ability of a soil to supply phosphorus to plants for uptake is highly dependent upon soil pH.

In general, under acidic conditions iron (Fe) and aluminum (Al) readily adsorb water soluble P, while in alkaline soils, calcium predominately fixes or ties up P, but Fe is also important. All of these reactions reduce the availability of P to plants. For this reason, a soil water pH between 6.2 and 6.8 is ideal because it limits the activities of Al, Ca, and Fe, allowing P to be more available for plant uptake. Soil chemical extractants (Bray P I and -II, Mehlich-3, Olsen, and Colwell) attempt to estimate the amount of P that is potentially available to plants. Each extractant works slightly different and was developed for different soil conditions. Additionally, each extractant has been related to crop yield data so that fertilizer recommendations can be made.

It is my opinion, that keeping a high pH soil routinely acidified is an excellent way to “mine” the phosphorus that already exists in the soil. This can take place through rain events, irrigation events where acid injection is used, the application of acidifying fertilizers (ammonium sulfate, gypsum, etc) and the use of sprayable “synthetic acids”. Governmental restrictions on phosphorus can be warranted in certain areas of the country where there are many bodies of water. However, most phosphorus run-off from fertilizers is not due to professional users. However, we must work within the system. Through routine soil test data collection in various areas of the country, I have found that there is usually plenty of phosphorus in the soil. Due to several factors listed above, it is not readily available to the plants and that is why golf courses or sports fields may see a need to apply a fertilizer such as 11-55-00. With phosphorus usage being eliminated altogether in many areas, this is not an option. So, knowing exactly what is in the soil and water source is important when making a decision to apply phosphorus or not” (Angelo).

Our many thanks to Corey. If you need to ask him any questions, please feel free to call him at 702-756-403. He is always ready to help.

The good news is that Nature Safe provides both phosphorus free and products with organic “P” contents for all types of applications. Let’s first begin with aeration and using Nature Safe’s flagship premier organic product 8-3-5. It is available in super fine, fine, and coarse grades. Recently, Nature Safe introduced another new aeration product that is phosphorus free, 10-0-8 super fine, also contains a kelp extract (from Ocean Organics) to meet your zero phosphorus needs. Many distributor sales personnel and end users are excited about this new product’s special bio-catalyst to benefit their greens during the hot summer months. This allows smaller amounts of 1/4 to 1/3 lb applications every month during the arid drought like summer  conditions in addition to the zero phosphorus benefits.

Fairway applications have continued throughout the west coast territory as well as other markets around the country using both 21-3-7 and 27-0-2. With the cost of urea, most agree that it “pencils out” using a slow release blend of organics with UFLEXXTM. A world renowned resort superintendent in Las Vegas shared that the cost was less comparing the application rate and labor cost of a sewage-based organic. Those that are required to be phosphorus free, keep in mind that Nature Safe’s popular offering of 27-2-2 has now been completely phased out in favor of 27-0-2 and is immediately in stock for shipment. As an important side note, Nature Safe also has had a 50/50 blend of organics with ammonium sulfate with our 12-2-6 as another “tool in your belt” to help acidulate the soil by lowering the pH.

So whatever your needs are, Nature Safe’s commitment to address ever-changing state regulating requirements… we are here to serve you!

Bibliography

Angelo, Corey. Consultant/Owner of Soil & Water Consulting. Hoboken, N.J. (702) 756-4031

Miller, Kristen L. “State Laws Banning Phosphorus Fertilizer Use.” OLR Research Report. 1 Feb 2012. Web. 26 Jun 2012.

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