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Concept: Fertilizer


The contamination of the environment with microplastic, defined as particles smaller than 5 mm, has emerged as a global challenge because it may pose risks to biota and public health. Current research focuses predominantly on aquatic systems, whereas comparatively little is known regarding the sources, pathways, and possible accumulation of plastic particles in terrestrial ecosystems. We investigated the potential of organic fertilizers from biowaste fermentation and composting as an entry path for microplastic particles into the environment. Particles were classified by size and identified by attenuated total reflection-Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy. All fertilizer samples from plants converting biowaste contained plastic particles, but amounts differed significantly with substrate pretreatment, plant, and waste (for example, household versus commerce) type. In contrast, digestates from agricultural energy crop digesters tested for comparison contained only isolated particles, if any. Among the most abundant synthetic polymers observed were those used for common consumer products. Our results indicate that depending on pretreatment, organic fertilizers from biowaste fermentation and composting, as applied in agriculture and gardening worldwide, are a neglected source of microplastic in the environment.

Concepts: Agriculture, Fertilizer, Urea, Compost, Organic fertilizer, Manure, Green manure, Vermicompost


Increasing diffuse nitrate loading of surface waters and groundwater has emerged as a major problem in many agricultural areas of the world, resulting in contamination of drinking water resources in aquifers as well as eutrophication of freshwaters and coastal marine ecosystems. Although empirical correlations between application rates of N fertilizers to agricultural soils and nitrate contamination of adjacent hydrological systems have been demonstrated, the transit times of fertilizer N in the pedosphere-hydrosphere system are poorly understood. We investigated the fate of isotopically labeled nitrogen fertilizers in a three-decade-long in situ tracer experiment that quantified not only fertilizer N uptake by plants and retention in soils, but also determined to which extent and over which time periods fertilizer N stored in soil organic matter is rereleased for either uptake in crops or export into the hydrosphere. We found that 61-65% of the applied fertilizers N were taken up by plants, whereas 12-15% of the labeled fertilizer N were still residing in the soil organic matter more than a quarter century after tracer application. Between 8-12% of the applied fertilizer had leaked toward the hydrosphere during the 30-y observation period. We predict that additional exports of (15)N-labeled nitrate from the tracer application in 1982 toward the hydrosphere will continue for at least another five decades. Therefore, attempts to reduce agricultural nitrate contamination of aquatic systems must consider the long-term legacy of past applications of synthetic fertilizers in agricultural systems and the nitrogen retention capacity of agricultural soils.

Concepts: Agriculture, Water, Fertilizer, Eutrophication, Soil, Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Manure


High crop yields depend on the continuous input of orthophosphate (PO(4)(−3))-based fertilizers and herbicides. Two major challenges for agriculture are that phosphorus is a nonrenewable resource and that weeds have developed broad herbicide resistance. One strategy to overcome both problems is to engineer plants to outcompete weeds and microorganisms for limiting resources, thereby reducing the requirement for both fertilizers and herbicides. Plants and most microorganisms are unable to metabolize phosphite (PO(3)(−3)), so we developed a dual fertilization and weed control system by generating transgenic plants that can use phosphite as a sole phosphorus source. Under greenhouse conditions, these transgenic plants require 30–50% less phosphorus input when fertilized with phosphite to achieve similar productivity to that obtained by the same plants using orthophosphate fertilizer and, when in competition with weeds, accumulate 2–10 times greater biomass than when fertilized with orthophosphate.

Concepts: Photosynthesis, Ammonia, Fertilizer, Phosphate, Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Weed, Glyphosate


The fate of chlortetracycline (CTC), sulfadiazine (SDZ) and ciprofloxacin (CIP) during composting of swine manure and their effect on composting process were investigated. Swine manure was spiked with antibiotics, mixed with saw dust (1:1 on DW basis) and composted for 56d. Antibiotics were spiked to a final concentration of 50mg/kg CTC+10mg/kg SDZ+10mg/kg CIP (High-level) or 5mg/kg CTC+1mg/kg SDZ+1mg/kg CIP (Low-level), and a control without antibiotics. Antibiotics at high concentrations delayed the initial decomposition that also affected the nitrogen mineralization. CTC and SDZ were completely removed from the composting mass within 21 and 3d, respectively; whereas, 17-31% of the spiked CIP remained in the composting mass. Therefore, composting could effectively remove the CTC and SDZ spiked even at high concentrations, but the removal of ciprofloxacin (belonging to fluoroquinolone) needs to be improved, indicating this antibiotic may get into the ecosystem through land application of livestock compost.

Concepts: Agriculture, Fertilizer, Humus, Quinolone, Compost, Composting, Vermicompost, Mulch


Foliar sprays of iron (Fe) and zinc (Zn) fertilisers are known to be an effective way to improve Fe and Zn concentrations in rice grain. However, results can differ significantly among different rice cultivars and/or types of foliar fertiliser. In this study, several Fe-rich rice cultivars were used to identify an effective foliar fertiliser for optimal Fe and Zn enrichment of rice grain.

Concepts: Iron, Fertilizer, Metal, Copper, Alloy, Rice, Moss, Foliar feeding


The intensive application of fertilizers during agricultural practices has led to an unprecedented perturbation of the nitrogen cycle, illustrated by the growing accumulation of nitrates in soils and waters, and of nitrogen oxides in the atmosphere. Besides increasing use efficiency of current N fertilizers, priority should be given to put on value the process of biological nitrogen fixation, through more sustainable technologies that reduce the undesired effects of chemical N fertilization of agricultural crops. Wider legume adoption, supported by coordinated legume breeding and inoculation programs are approaches at hand. Also available are biofertilizers based on microbes that help to reduce the needs of N fertilization in important crops like cereals. Engineering in cereals the capacity to fix nitrogen, either by themselves or in symbiosis with nitrogen-fixing microbes, are attractive future options that nevertheless require more intensive and internationally coordinated research efforts. Although nitrogen-fixing plants may be less productive, at some point agriculture must significantly reduce the use of warming (chemically synthesized) N and give priority to the biological nitrogen fixation, if it is to sustain both food production and environmental health for a continuously growing human population.

Concepts: Agriculture, Ammonia, Fertilizer, Nitrogen, Nitrogen fixation, Denitrification, Nitrification, Nitrogen cycle


Solid-state anaerobic digestion (SS-AD) and composting of yard trimmings with effluent from liquid AD were compared under thermophilic condition. Total solids (TS) contents of 22%, 25%, and 30% were studied for SS-AD, and 35%, 45%, and 55% for composting. Feedstock/effluent (F/E) ratios of 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 were tested. In composting, the greatest carbon loss was obtained at 35% TS, which was 2-3 times of that at 55% TS and was up to 50% higher than that in SS-AD. In SS-AD, over half of the degraded carbon was converted to methane with the greatest methane yield of 121 L/kg VS(feedstock). Methane production from SS-AD was low at F/E ratios of 2 and 3, likely due to the inhibitory effect of high concentrations of ammonia nitrogen (up to 5.6g/kg). The N-P-K values were similar for SS-AD digestate and compost with different dominant nitrogen forms.

Concepts: Fertilizer, Anaerobic digestion, Biogas, Methane, Landfill, Mechanical biological treatment, Thermophile, Digestate


Access to fixed or available forms of nitrogen limits the productivity of crop plants and thus food production. Nitrogenous fertilizer production currently represents a significant expense for the efficient growth of various crops in the developed world. There are significant potential gains to be had from reducing dependence on nitrogenous fertilizers in agriculture in the developed world and in developing countries, and significant interest in research on biological nitrogen fixation and prospects for increasing its importance in an agricultural setting. Biological nitrogen fixation is the conversion of atmospheric N2to NH3-a form that can be used by plants. However, the process is restricted to bacteria and archaea and does not occur in eukaryotes. Symbiotic nitrogen fixation is part of a mutualistic relationship in which plants provide a niche and fixed carbon to bacteria in exchange for fixed nitrogen. This process is restricted mainly to legumes in agricultural systems and there is considerable interest in exploring whether similar symbioses can be developed in non-legumes, which produce the bulk of human food. We are at a juncture where the fundamental understanding of biological nitrogen fixation has matured to a level that we can think about engineering symbiotic relationships using synthetic biology approaches. This mini-review highlights the fundamental advances in our understanding of biological nitrogen fixation in the context of a blueprint for expanding symbiotic nitrogen fixation to a greater diversity of crop plants through synthetic biology.

Concepts: Bacteria, Agriculture, Evolution, Fertilizer, Symbiosis, Nitrogen, Nitrogen fixation, Rhizobia


Sustainable development and circular economy rules force the global fertilizer industry to develop new phosphorous recovery methods from alternative sources. In this paper a phosphorus recovery technology from Polish industrial Sewage Sludge Ashes was investigated (PolFerAsh - Polish Fertilizers form Ash). A wet method with the use of mineral acid and neutralization was proposed. Detailed characteristic of SSA from largest mono-combustion plans were given and compared to raw materials used on the market. The technological factors associated with such materials were discussed. The composition of the extracts was compared to typical industrial phosphoric acid and standard values characterizing suspension fertilizers. The most favorable conditions for selective precipitation of phosphorus compounds were revealed. The fertilizers obtained also meet EU regulations in the case of the newly discussed Cd content. The process was scaled up and a flow mass diagram was defined.

Concepts: Acid, Ammonia, Fertilizer, Phosphoric acid, Phosphorus, Sewage, Phosphorous acid, Hypophosphorous acid


Phosphorus (P) is a critical nutrient used to maximize plant growth and yield. Current agriculture management practices commonly experience low plant P use efficiency due to natural chemical sorption and transformations when P fertilizer is applied to soils. A perplexing challenge facing agriculture production is finding sustainable solutions to deliver P more efficiently to plants. Using prescribed applications of specific soil microbial assemblages to mobilize soil bound-P to improve crop nutrient uptake and productivity has rarely been employed. We investigated whether inoculation of soils with a bacterial consortium developed to mobilize soil P, named Mammoth P™, could increase plant productivity. In turf, herbs, and fruits, the combination of conventional inorganic fertilizer combined with Mammoth P™ increased productivity up to twofold compared to the fertilizer treatments without the Mammoth P™ inoculant. Jalapeño plants were found to bloom more rapidly when treated with either Mammoth P. In wheat trials, we found that Mammoth P™ by itself was able to deliver yields equivalent to those achieved with conventional inorganic fertilizer applications and improved productivity more than another biostimulant product. Results from this study indicate the substantial potential of Mammoth P™ to enhance plant growth and crop productivity.

Concepts: Agriculture, Plant, Fertilizer, Nutrient, Soil, Nitrogen, Fruit, Manure