Soil phosphorus buffering measures should not be adjusted for current phosphorus fertility Academic Article uri icon


  • Soil phosphorus (P) sorption is an important and relatively stable soil property which dictates the equilibrium between sorbed and solution P. Soil P sorption measures are commonly adjusted for the effect of current P fertility on the amount of P a soil sorbs. In the case of highly fertilised agricultural soils, however, this adjustment is likely to be inappropriate as it may mask changes in a soil’s capacity to sorb P, which could affect future P fertiliser applications. A study was undertaken to compare adjusted or unadjusted methods of measuring P sorption using 9 pasture soils sampled from southern Victoria which had previously received P fertiliser and lime. The P sorption assessment methods included: P sorption isotherms, P-buffering capacity (PBC) measures (slope between equilibrium P concentration of 0.25 and 0.35 mg P/L), and single-point P-buffering indices (PBI), with methods either adjusted or unadjusted for current P fertility. A single application of 280 kg P/ha, 6 months before sampling, resulted in a general negative displacement of unadjusted P sorption isotherm curves, indicating reduced P sorption on 8 of the 9 soils. Adding the Colwell extractable P concentration to the amount of P sorbed before calculating the slope (PBC+ColP), tended to negate this fertiliser effect and, in 2 of the 9 soils, resulted in a significant increase in PBC+ColP values. Increasing rates of P fertiliser application (up to 280 kg P/ha) resulted in a consistent trend to decreasing PBI values (unadjusted for Colwell P), which was significant at 4 of the 9 sites after 6 months. However, only minimal changes in PBI values were determined when PBI was adjusted for current P fertility (PBI+ColP). Phosphorus sorption properties appeared reasonably stable over time, although 2 soils, both Ferrosols, indicated significant linear increases in PBI values when these sites remained unfertilised for 30 months. Lime significantly increased both PBI and PBI+ColP values at all sites 6 months after application, but the effect generally diminished after 30 months, suggesting PBI measurements should not be taken immediately after liming. These results demonstrate that unadjusted measures of P sorption are more likely to accurately reflect changes in soil P sorption capacity following P fertiliser applications and suggest that the unadjusted PBI be used in commercial soil testing rather that the currently adjusted PBI+ColP.

publication date

  • 2008