SOME THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT PHOSPHORUS
Phosphorus (P) is all around us. Small concentrations are present in all lakes, streams, oceans and seas. It is in the soil and in rocks and minerals, plants and animals. It is present in every living cell and is essential to all forms of life…human, animal and plant.
Phosphorus is the second most abundant mineral in the human body, surpassed only by calcium. It makes up more than 20 percent of the mineral ash in the body, about one percent of total body weight. Nearly 80 percent of the P in humans is found in bones and teeth. The remainder is widely distributed…in combination with proteins, fats, and salts. Mineral supplements containing P may be prescribed by doctors when a P deficiency is diagnosed. Strong teeth and bones depend on an adequate supply of P.
How can we be sure we are getting enough P? By practicing good health habits, which include eating right. Nature supplies us with liberal amounts of P in the foods we eat...meats, dairy products, fruits, nuts, and vegetables. For example, a cup of 2% milk contains 245 milligrams of P; six ounces of lean roasted ham 404 milligrams. Eating a balanced diet… one that contains plenty of P…is our best defense against illness, bad teeth, and weak bones.
Plants require large quantities of P. In an average year in the U.S., the crops of corn, wheat and alfalfa remove a total of nearly 1.5 billion pounds of P from the soil. Nitrogen (N) and potassium (K) are the only other essential plant food nutrients taken up in greater quantities than P. Phosphorus is involved in numerous plant functions, especially those requiring energy. The sun’s energy, used in photosynthesis, would not support the necessary plant functions if P were not present in ‘energy packaging’ compounds. Phosphorus is indeed the energizer in food production by plants.
Phosphorus is used to fertilize crops around the world. The most common source is phosphate rock, most of which is recovered for processing by surface mining techniques. Known world reserves of phosphate rock approach 40 billion tons…enough to last hundreds of years. The U.S., North Africa (Morocco and western Sahara), and China produce about two thirds of the phosphate rock used in making P fertilizers. Animal manure and other by-products contain P and are also used to fertilize crops.
Phosphorus and N are two essential plant nutrients that can potentially have a negative impact on water quality. Care must be taken in their use as fertilizers, whether from commercial sources, animal manure, or biosolids, so that most of the N and P fertilizers are taken up by the crops or kept in the fields where they are applied. With today’s advanced technology, farmers are using site-specific nutrient management to improve fertilizer use efficiency, for greater farmer return on investment in fertilizers as well as improved environmental protection.
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