Plant and Soil

, Volume 424, Issue 1–2, pp 367–388 | Cite as

Water soluble phosphate fertilizers for crops grown in calcareous soils – an outdated paradigm for recycled phosphorus fertilizers?

  • G. Meyer
  • E. Frossard
  • P. Mäder
  • S. Nanzer
  • D. G. Randall
  • K. M. Udert
  • A. Oberson
Regular Article


Background and aims

The current paradigm for phosphorus (P) fertilizers applied to calcareous soil is that almost entirely water soluble P fertilizers are efficient and sparingly soluble P fertilizers are not efficient P sources for crops. We hypothesize that this paradigm does not apply to recycled P fertilizers and that other P pools can explain the plant use of recycled P fertilizers on calcareous soil.


We applied 33P isotopic dilution method to evaluate recycled P fertilizers based on plant P uptake from fertilizer relative to plant uptake from a water soluble P reference fertilizer. The predictability of fertilizer effectiveness based on sequentially extracted P forms and X-ray diffraction pattern of recycled fertilizers derived from sewage sludge, human urine and organic waste was evaluated.


The plant experiments showed that tested recycled P fertilizers including compost were more effective than rock phosphate. The water insoluble P contained in urine based products was almost as effective as a fully water soluble P fertilizer. The tested recycled P fertilizers are characterized by complex P compounds differing in solubility which were so far not considered in the water and citric acid extraction methods. The fraction of resin- and NaHCO3 extractable fertilizer P explained effectiveness of P fertilizer applied to the calcareous and to an acidic soil.


We concluded that water solubility is not required when P forms in recycled products are comparable to reactions products of rock phosphate based fertilizers in soil. Alternatives to fully water soluble P fertilizers are available to supply P to crops grown on calcareous soil efficiently.


Phosphorus Calcareous soil Isotopic dilution Recycled fertilizer Sequential fractionation Fertilizer effectiveness 



Acidic soil


Calcareous soil


Calcium silicate hydrate phosphate


Di-ammonium phosphate


Di-calcium phosphate


Mono-ammonium phosphate


Mono-calcium phosphate


Organic waste based solid digestate, dried


Organic waste based solid digestate, composted


Phosphorus derived from


Rock phosphate


Sewage sludge ash




Urine calcium full nutrient


Urine calcium phosphate


Water soluble P


X-ray diffraction



We acknowledge the help of Brian Sinnet from Eawag with XRD analysis and Laurie Mauclaire-Schönholzer, Iris Huber and Eric Vogelsanger for their help with analyses and the plant growth experiments. We thank Jacques Fuchs from FiBL Switzerland for having provided the contact to the biogas plant in Pratteln, Switzerland. We also thank Wolfgang Ewert and Andreas Lengemann from Berliner Wasserbetriebe Wassmannsdorf, Germany, and Anke Ehbrecht from the Karlsruher Institute of Technology (KIT) for providing their recycled P products. Finally, we acknowledge the financial support of the CORE Organic II Funding Bodies, being partners of the FP7 ERA-Net project, CORE Organic II (Coordination of European Transnational Research in Organic Food and Farming systems, project no. 249667). We also thank N.J. Barrow and the three anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments.

Supplementary material

11104_2017_3545_MOESM1_ESM.docx (297 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 297 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Group of Plant Nutrition, Institute of Agricultural SciencesETH ZurichZurichSwitzerland
  2. 2.Research Institute of Organic Agriculture FiBLFrickSwitzerland
  3. 3.Eawag Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and TechnologyDubendorfSwitzerland

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