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Regional Differences in Phosphorus Budgets in Intensive Soybean Agriculture

Shelby H. Riskin, Stephen Porder, Meagan E. Schipanski, Elena M. Bennett and Christopher Neill
Vol. 63, No. 1 (January 2013), pp. 49-54
DOI: 10.1525/bio.2013.63.1.10
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Page Count: 6
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Regional Differences in Phosphorus Budgets in Intensive Soybean Agriculture
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Fertilizer-intensive agriculture has been integral to increasing food production over the past half century but has been accompanied by environmental costs. We use case studies of phosphorus fertilizer use in the world’s most productive soybean-growing regions, Iowa (United States), Mato Grosso (Brazil), and Buenos Aires (Argentina), to examine influences of management and soil type on agriculture’s most prevalent phosphorus-related environmental consequences: eutrophication and consumption of Earth’s finite phosphorus reserves. With increasing phosphorus inputs, achieving high yields on tropical soils with high phosphorus-binding capacity is becoming more common. This system has low eutrophication risks but increases demands on phosphorus supplies. In contrast, production in traditional breadbaskets, on soils with lower phosphorus-binding capacities, is being sustained with decreasing phosphorus inputs. However, in these regions, historical overuse of phosphorus may mean continued eutrophication risk even as pressures on phosphorus reserves diminish. We focus here on soybean production but illustrate how achieving sustainable agriculture involves an intricate optimization of local, regional, and global considerations.

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