Improving the sustainability of phosphorus use in arable farming

Lead Research Organisation: University of Southampton
Department Name: Faculty of Engineering & the Environment

Abstract

The increasing global demand for food, concerns over dwindling reserves of good quality phosphate rock and the climate-change impacts of fertiliser manufacture, fluctuating fertiliser prices, and the adverse environmental, social and economic consequences of phosphorus (P) pollution of water require the development of innovative and more sustainable solutions to the use and management of P on farms. Current systems of production rely on inputs of highly water-soluble fertilisers to maintain large reserves of background P in the soil. Recovery of applied P by crops is consequently low (<30%) and this inefficiency is not only wasteful of resources but also increases the risk of eutrophication through increased P loss in runoff from land. A peak in global phosphate rock production could occur within the next two decades whilst eutrophication is estimated to be costing the UK over £75 million per annum. A potential alternative and more sustainable strategy for P use in arable farming systems is to maintain a lower background of soil P but supplement this with more targeted P applications and/or by fertilisers that are more efficiently used, and/or fertilisers recovered from domestic or livestock wastewaters. We propose here that adoption of these more sustainable P use strategies will reduce growing costs and current dependence on elevated soil P-fertility, so will help to preserve finite global reserves of P and reduce export of P in runoff from land. In this proposal a multi-disciplinary, cross-industry research team will investigate and develop a new direction for P management that will improve P-use efficiency in arable crops, maximise recycling of wastewater P, reduce the pressure on rock phosphate reserves and minimise wider environmental impacts. Through multi-centre modelling, laboratory studies and field experiments we will compare and develop methods to improve P-use efficiency by (a) reducing the fixation of applied P by soils, (b) improving the accessibility of applied P to crops, and (c) improving the exploitation of soil P previously considered to be largely unavailable to crops. The magnitude of the economic and wider environmental benefits from maintaining lower soil P-fertility need to be quantified across a range of soil types and cropping systems. On completion, the project will deliver novel and profitable soil and fertiliser management strategies that will help farmers maintain the economic viability of their farm businesses and meet any future restrictions on P management under the Water Framework Directive. The project will have relevance across the spectrum of conventional, LEAF and organic farming systems and will involve overseas collaboration on what is internationally recognised as a key issue for sustainable farming and global food security. BBSRC funded project will develop mathematical models and optimisation techniques to describe phosphate movement and uptake by cropping systems.

Technical Summary

There are two main objectives for the entire Defra LINK project. (1) To develop novel targeted fertiliser technologies and soil-P acquisition strategies that will enable arable crops to be grown on soils having a lower P status without sacrificing crop yield, crop quality or farm profits; (2) To determine whether adoption of novel soil and fertiliser strategies on low-P soils will enable reduction in P inputs, reduce emissions of P from land to water and lessen the wider negative environmental impacts of arable farming. Summary of the modelling project funded by BBSRC Within this project we will develop a new generation mathematical models that (a) simultaneously predict the combined crop (e.g. rooting pattern) and soil (e.g. diffusion coefficients) traits required for efficient utilization of P in low P soils (b) quantify the rates and partitioning of P uptake between root and shoot under different fertiliser application strategies (c) predict optimum fertiliser application strategies (timing, zone of application) for maximising efficiency of P use for different soil/crop combinations. We achieve this via systematically completing the following tasks Task 1 Validating and linking soil and single root models Task 2 Development of root system and crop scale models Task 3 Scenario analysis for optimizing P fertilization strategies.

Planned Impact

This project is part of the large Defra LINK project titled 'Improving the phosphorus use in arable farming'. On completion, the Defra LINK project will deliver novel and profitable soil and fertiliser management strategies that will help farmers maintain the economic viability of their farm businesses and meet any future restrictions on P management under the Water Framework Directive. The project will have relevance across the spectrum of conventional, LEAF and organic farming systems and will involve overseas collaboration on what is internationally recognised as a key issue for sustainable farming and global food security. The BBSRC funded part of the Defra LINK project will deal with mathematical modelling of P uptake by plants in order to optimise the fertilise placement and minimize the runoff. The modelling will enable to interpret and translate data across the spatial scales and thereby increase the value of experimental findings. By design, the project is directly linked to industry and contains a range of stakeholders from fertiliser producers through to agronomic extension officers. These industrial sponsors form key partners in the project and consequently they will be invited to attend all the project workshops. They will also be integrally involved in the project co-ordination meetings in which the experimental designs are decided upon thereby ensuring the real world relevance of the science. Many of the industrial academic stakeholders also actively engaged in advising on land use policy in the UK (e.g. via DEFRA, Welsh Assembly Government etc). Academic benefits arising from this work will be many fold. The most direct academic beneficiaries will be the crop science community (academic and industrial). The models developed will allow them to integrate their findings in a quantitative manner and determine how different sub-systems in plants interact. Other beneficiaries will include researchers involved in bioremediation and pollution control research since plants often act as a first point of contact for pollutant movement. The work also has potential in predicting the fate and transport of human pathogens (e.g. E. coli O157) in agricultural systems. Specifically, it will allow scaling up from pathogen behaviour at the rhizosphere level to the field level, a key research challenge which has not yet been achieved. In addition, there will be beneficiaries in the biomedical and mathematical modelling and engineering communities since plant roots are in the modelling sense 'similar' to human vascular and lymphatic system, and lung. A key International priority is to breed crops for changing climate conditions, in particular for conditions of severe drought (Africa, Asia etc), but also for areas of severe flooding (Asia, Europe etc). Our research will directly benefit crop breeders in guiding which plant root system traits are important for any soil moisture conditions. Similarly, waterlogging is another major limitation to crop production which will be aided by the creation of generic modelling platforms which can be adapted to help address mitigation options. Agricultural and environmental policy makers concerned with the fate of pollutants and fertilizers in the environment will also benefit from this research. At a wider scale we anticipate benefits for the international development community who can use the results of our research to produce policy recommendations for areas likely to undergo significant environmental climate change, again with respect to the appropriate management of soil. In addition, they have the potential to be used for risk assessment purposes and would provide mechanistic detail to existing Environment Agency models.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description We have discovered that manipulating the plant root architecture can help to grow the crops in reduced phosphate soils. Also, we have found what is the best and most promising phosphate fertiliser management scenario for the UK agriculture.
Exploitation Route We have discovered that manipulating the plant root architecture can help to grow the crops in reduced phosphate soils. Also, we have found what is the best and most promising phosphate fertiliser management scenario for the UK agriculture.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink

 
Description This is part of the old Defra LINK scheme which deals with pre-policy management recommendations to do with P management. Industry and government are using our modelling to supplement their decision making processes with this knowledge.
First Year Of Impact 2014
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink
Impact Types Societal,Economic,Policy & public services

 
Description The Parliamentary and Scientific Committee Discussion meeting on "Are we looking after our soils?" organised by Stephen Metcalfe MP
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Gave evidence to a government review
Impact This meeting on Nov 3rd 2015 was to discuss the importance of soils on the UK plc. One of the recommendations was to look into introducing "caring for soils" into farmer tenancy agreements as part of the revised bill dealing with short term tenants. Ie similar to housing tenants who are required to take care of the house they are renting and hand it back in a good conditions, it was suggested that the farmers should also take care of the soil and hand it back in equally good or improved conditions at the end of their term.
 
Description ERC Consolidator Grant
Amount € 1,996,246 (EUR)
Funding ID 646809 
Organisation European Research Council (ERC) 
Sector Public
Country Belgium
Start 09/2015 
End 08/2020
 
Description An invited talk at Bayer CropScience's Workshop titled "Soil and Root Health" 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Feb 2016: Bayer CropScience's - Soil and Root Health Symposium. This event will take place on February 16-17, 2016 at the headquarter campus of Bayer CropScience at Monheim, Germany.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Conference talk at Rhizosphere 2015 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Talk titled "Fusing synchrotron imaging, spectroscopy and computational modelling for enhanced understanding of nutrient dynamics" by S.D. Keyes, K. R. Daly and T. Roose at Rhizosphere 2015 conference in Maastricht sparked questions and discussion.

after the talk several international people approached us for potential future collaborations and lab visits.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Conference: Complex Soil Systems, Berkeley 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact An interesting conference about soils and the use of complex systems as studied in my phD (first year). A field trip to agricultural sties and the use of an augur was priceless.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
URL http://esd1.lbl.gov/research/programs/ERWR/soils_conference/
 
Description Conference: Complex systems simulation 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Presented a talk at this yearly conference aimed at PhD students to improve confidence and spark debate between academics.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012,2013
 
Description Conference: INFORMS (America) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact A large international conference on all aspects of optimisation. Great introduction to the field.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2011
URL http://meetings2.informs.org/charlotte2011/
 
Description Conference: Phosphorus in Soils and Plants, Montpelier 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Conference in the south of France concerning all aspects of plants, soil and biology. Lots was learnt about the biology of the soil.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
URL http://psp5-2014.cirad.fr
 
Description Conference: Rhizo4, Maastricht 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact A large conference held every 4 years concerning all aspects of plant and soil modelling given to a wide audience. Great networking opportunity and experience of lots of other academic work in a similar field. Poster entitled "Using a whole plant crop model to assess phosphate fertiliser use in barley".
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://www.rhizo4.org
 
Description Conference: international fertiliser society, Cambridge 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact An end of year conference looking at the use of fertilisers such as phosphorus, at all scales and uses, industry and academia.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013,2015
URL http://fertiliser-society.org
 
Description Feb 14-17 2018 Phenome 2018 Tuscon Arizona US. Keynote speaker for the theme "Algorithms and Data Management for Phenotype Quantification and Analysis". 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Feb 14-17 2018 Phenome 2018 Tuscon Arizona US. Keynote speaker for the theme "Algorithms and Data Management for Phenotype Quantification and Analysis".
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Image based modelling of multi fluid flow and nutrient transport in a root-soil system 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact K.R. Daly, S.D. Keyes and T. Roose. Image based modelling of multi-fluid flow and nutrient transport in a root-soil system. Gordon Research Conference 2014, 06/07/2014-11/07/2014.

increase in visibility and new collaborations
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description July 2018 Plenary speaker at Society of Mathematical Biology conference in Sydney. 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact July 2018 Plenary speaker at Society of Mathematical Biology conference in Sydney.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description K.R. Daly, S.D. Keyes and T. Roose, Image based modelling of plant scale soil properties, BSSS/SSP conference 7th-8th September 2016 (poster) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Poster at the British Soil Science Society Conference:
K.R. Daly, S.D. Keyes and T. Roose, Image based modelling of plant scale soil properties, BSSS/SSP
conference 7th-8th September 2016 (poster)
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Keynote talk at Keystone 2016 "Microphytobiomes". Title of the talk "Multiscale Modelling of Plant-Soil Interaction" 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Nov 2016: Keystone Symposia on Molecular and Cellular Science. Invited to give a Keynote address by Drs. Jan E. Leach, Kellye A. Eversole, Jonathan A. Eisen, Gwyn Beattie and Marcos A. Machado, we are Keystone Symposia on Phytobiomes: From Microbes to Plant Ecosystems, held in Santa Fe.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL https://www.keystonesymposia.org/17S2
 
Description Keynote talk at Kirkham Conference 2016 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact April 2016: Kirkham conference invited speaker; talk titled "Multiscale mathematical modelling of plant-soil interaction"
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL https://www.soils.org/membership/divisions/soil-physics-and-hydrology/kirkham-conferences
 
Description Meet the scientist, Sherborne House School 11th March 2016 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Primary school outreach event during the Science week:
Meet the scientist, Sherborne House School 11th March 2016
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Minisymposia at BAMC titled "Multi scale analysis of porous media" 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Porous materials are a fundamental building block of many terrestrialmaterials, eco-systems, biological tissues, and manmade engineering materials. There are numerous examples of porous materials for which enhanced modelling and optimisation techniques will offer significant gains in efficiency and productivity. In agriculture, 30% of UK wheat currently needs to be grown on drought-prone land, where yields are limited by the scarcity of water in the soil. In the construction industry, the reuse of pulverised fuel ash as a low porosity material for flood embankments is limited by the potential leaching of heavy metals into the surrounding environment. To overcome these, and many other problems there is a clear need to go beyond idealised models and develop a more detailed understanding of flow and transport phenomena in such systems.
The mathematics of multiscale modelling in porous media is a rapidly growing field with wide ranging applications and collaborative opportunities. In this mini symposium we will discuss the mathematics of porous media. We will focus on pore scale and continuous descriptions of transport, fluid dynamics and structural mechanics. In addition talks will focus on how asymptotic techniques can be used to exploit the large variations in scales within these materials to link properties on the pore scale to macro-scale observations.
Whilst the main focus of the session is on the mathematical developments occurring in different areas of porous media, we will also focus on application and how mathematical techniques can be integrated with Computed Tomography and continuum scale measurements to inform industry practise, answer fundamental questions, and optimise porous materials across a range of different applications
Speakers
The session will include talks from five speakers working in different areas of porous media at different scales.
Dr Keith Daly - University of Southampton
Combining homogenisation theory and image based modelling to predict the poro-elastic properties of multi-constituent soils
Dr Laura Cooper - University of Warwick
Macroscopic effects of microscale interfaces
Dr Rebecca Shipley - University College London
Porous medium models to predict spatial heterogeneity in anti-cancer therapy efficacy
Mr Simon Duncan - University of Southampton
Solute movement and uptake in dynamic poroelastic materials
Dr Matteo Icardi - University of Nottingham
Upscaling reactive and electrochemical transport in porous media
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Multimodal Imaging of Plant-Soil Interaction for Better and More Predictive Modelling of Rhizosphere Processes 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Roose, T., Petroselli, C., Williams, K., Dias, T., Scotson, C., McKay Fletcher, D.M., Ruiz, S. and Van Veelen, A., 2019, December. Invited Paper 487194: Multimodal Imaging of Plant-Soil Interaction for Better and More Predictive Modelling of Rhizosphere Processes. In AGU Fall Meeting 2019. AGU.
Location: San Francisco, CA, USA
Dates: 09/12/2019-13/12/2019
Demographic: Scientists, Professors, Students
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description On the Need to Establish an International Soil Modelling Consortium 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Type Of Presentation keynote/invited speaker
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Conference presentation preparation for Complex Soil Systems Conference in Berkeley Sept 3-5 2014.
Full list of authors of this presentation is:
Vereecken H., Vanderborght J., Schnepf A., Brüggemann N., Amelung W., Herbst M., Javaux M., Van der Zee S.E.A.T.M., Or D., Šimunek J., van Genuchten M. Th., Vrugt J.A., Hopmans J.W., Young M.H., Baveye P., Pachepsky Y., Vanclooster M., Hallett P.D., Tiktak A., Jacques D., Vogel T., Jarvis N., Finke P., Jiménez J.J., Garnier P., Li C., Ogee J, Mollier A., Lafolie F., Cousin I., Pot V., Maron P.A., Roose T., Wall D.H., Schwen, A., Doussan C., Vogel H.J., Govers G., Durner W., Priesack E., Roth K., Horn R., Kollet S., Rinaldo A., Whitmore A., Goulding K., Parton, W.J.

Establishment of the world wide soil modelling consortium.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description On the need to establish an international soil modelling consortium 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Type Of Presentation keynote/invited speaker
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact This was a presentation at the Soil Science Society of America Meeting in Longreach CA Nov 2-5 2014
Full author list of the presentation is:
Vereecken H., Vanderborght J., Schnepf A., Brüggemann N., Amelung W., Herbst M., Javaux M., Van der Zee S.E.A.T.M., Or D., Šimunek J., van Genuchten M. Th., Vrugt J.A., Hopmans J.W., Young M.H., Baveye P., Pachepsky Y., Vanclooster M., Hallett P.D., Tiktak A., Jacques D., Vogel T., Jarvis N., Finke P., Jiménez J.J., Garnier P., Li C., Ogee J, Mollier A., Lafolie F., Cousin I., Pot V., Maron P.A., Roose T., Wall D.H., Schwen, A., Doussan C., Vogel H.J., Govers G., Durner W., Priesack E., Roth K., Horn R., Kollet S., Rinaldo A., Whitmore A., Goulding K., Parton, W.J.

Formation of the international soil modelling consortium
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description Talk at AGU Fall meeting 2014 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Type Of Presentation keynote/invited speaker
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Talk titled "Current advancements and challenges in soil-root interactions modelling" by A. Schnepf, K. Huber, B. Abesha, F. Meaner, D. Leitner, T. Roose, M. Javaux, J. Vanderbroght, H. Vereecken was given at AGU Fall meeting 15-19 Dec 2014 in San Francisco.

Collaborations discussed
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description The use of global optimisation to capture the effects of water movement through soil. 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Conference talk at Young OR conference

no actual impacts realised to date
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
 
Description Workshop: The LANCS initiative workshop, Bristol 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact A workshop for specialists to discuss operational research techniques, e.g. packing
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
URL http://www.lancs-initiative.ac.uk/page/150/Seminars-and-Workshops.htm
 
Description Workshop: Truly Predicting plant Water Uptake, Southampton 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Small workshop with all national experts on modelling, imaging and experiemtns concerned with water movement in soils. Good networking was achieved and I also helped to co-run this event. Talk entitled "Using a whole plant model to assess phosphate fertiliser and water use in barley"
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://www.plantsci.org.uk/events/truly-predicting-plant-water-uptake-one-day-workshop
 
Description Workshop: Truly Predicting plant Water Uptake, Southampton 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Small workshop with all national experts on modelling, imaging and experiemtns concerned with water movement in soils. Good networking was achieved and I also helped to co-run this event. Talk entitled "Using a whole plant model to assess phosphate fertiliser and water use in barley"
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://www.plantsci.org.uk/events/truly-predicting-plant-water-uptake-one-day-workshop
 
Description X-ray CT imaging and image based modelling of nutrient uptake by root hairs 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact K.R. Daly, S. Keyes, S. Masum, T. Roose. X-ray CT imaging and image based modeling of nutrient uptake by root hairs. British Applied Mathematics Colloquium, 2014 , 29/04/2014.

Increased visibility and stimulation of the community
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014