Influence of rates of reactive phosphate rock and sulphur on potentially available phosphorous in organically managed soils in the south-eastern near-Mediterranean cropping region of Australia

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Reactive phosphate rock (RPR) is the only phosphorous (P) fertiliser allowed for organically managed, broad-acre crop-pasture systems in southern Australia. However, soils are usually deficient in P, and the soils, climate, and plant species grown, do not promote extensive dissolution of RPR so the fertiliser is poorly effective for crop and pasture production. Biological oxidation of elemental sulphur (S) mixed and applied with RPR may sufficiently increase dissolution of P from RPR to improve its effectiveness as a P fertiliser. However, this needs to be confirmed in field studies in the region. Rates of RPR and S required to optimise dissolution of RPR are not known for the soils, environments, and agricultural systems used. Both pot and field studies showed that mixing RPR and S, and incorporating the mix into soil (top 10 cm for field studies), significantly increased Olsen P and soil solution P, even in strongly acidic soils (pHCa < 4.6). In general, Olsen P increased linearly with the applied rate of P up to 42–70 kg P ha−1 and the rate of change in Olsen P per unit of applied P increased with the applied rate of S up to 400 kg S ha−1. This interaction suggested that the effectiveness of RPR + S may be compromised by segregation of RPR and S. In addition, there was evidence that S application may not necessarily create a more acidic soil environment necessary for enhanced dissolution of RPR.

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