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  • to ensure you are making money from superphosphate 1

    to ensure you are making money from superphosphate

  • to ensure you are making money from superphosphate2

    to ensure you are making money from superphosphateThis booklet is relevant for the management of temperate legume-based pastures grazed by sheep and beef cattle on acid soils in southern Australia October 2009


    This software may be of assistance to you but CSIRO, Industry and Investment NSW, Pastures Australia and the Pastures Australia joint venture partners or their employees do not guarantee that the software is without fl aw of any kind or that it is wholly appropriate for your particular purposes and therefore disclaim all liability for any error, loss or any other consequence that may arise from you relying on any information it provides.


    Booklet compiled by: Richard SimpsonA, Phillip Graham,B Lloyd DaviesB and Eric ZurcherA

    ACSIRO Sustainable Agriculture Flagship/CSIRO Plant Industry

    BIndustry and Investment NSW, Department of Primary Industries

    Fiona Leech, Adam Stefanski and Karel Mokany are acknowledged for their assistance and suggestions. The booklet is a compilation of research results, other work and knowledge generated by many people in Departments of Agriculture, CSIRO, and Universities across Australia. Some unpublished data, data from the public record and other advisory information is used as acknowledged and/or with permission.

    Five Easy Steps

  • to ensure you are making money from superphosphate 3












    Use soil testing to assess the P-fertility status of your soil

    Determine the stocking rate that is appropriate for your current or projected soil

    fertility level.

    Determine how much P needs to be applied given

    your projected stocking rate and soil P status.

    Check that the proposed investment in P-fertilser and/or livestock will generate an

    acceptable return

    Think through any other factors that might modify your decision to apply P

    Apply P and/or adjust livestock numbers

    Modify your previous decisions about projected stock numbers or soil P


    Why apply phosphorus fertiliser?Phosphorus (P) is applied to Australian pastures because a majority of our soils have low P-availability for plant growth, and pasture growth is constrained by their P defi ciency. For legume-based pastures, improving P-availability boosts the legume content of the pasture and increases the amount of biological nitrogen fi xation by the pasture system. Nitrogen is often the most limiting soil nutrient. Thus, P-fertiliser practise drives overall pasture productivity.However, ultimately the objective of applying P is to lift or maintain stocking rate and consequently to improve profi t per hectare.This booklet and the accompanying computer tool are intended to assist farmers in determining suitable levels for P-fertilisation of temperate pastures grazed by sheep and beef cattle on acid soils in southern Australia.

    How to proceedEach step is dealt with sequentially in this booklet. Work through each step in turn, as illustrated in the diagram.

    Using the Five Easy Steps Worksheet and Computer tool

    When you are familiar with the Steps you will fi nd it easier to go directly to the Five Easy Step

    Worksheet (page 17). This directs you to the key sections of the booklet and computer tool that you need to reach a fertilizer decision.

  • 4 Five Easy Steps - to ensure you are making money from superphosphate


    1Step 1: Using a soil test to determine current soil fertility and your target for soil P management.

    This brochure deals only with interpretation of the Olsen extractable-P soil test (Olsen et al. 1954) and the Colwell extractable-P test (Colwell 1963) which are used widely in southern Australia. Both tests are applicable to acid soils but may not be suited to calcareous soils (e.g. Bertrand et al. 2003). The Colwell P test is an adaptation of the Olsen P test aimed at improving its reproducibility (Colwell 1963) but the cost of improved reproducibility was that soil test interpretation became soil-specific (Helyar and Spencer 1977). Figure 1 shows the relationship between pasture yield and Olsen P over a wide range of soils. These data are interpreted to indicate that pasture will respond to fertiliser P application if the Olsen P soil test value is less than 15 mg P/kg soil, irrespective of soil type. Above this Olsen P value, pasture yield will not be increased markedly.

    Soils always contain much more phosphorus (P) than is available to plants during the current growing season. Most of the P is in compounds that plants cannot use directly, is tightly bound to soil particles or in compounds that are only sparingly-soluble. The various soil tests that are used to assess whether fertiliser additions will result in more pasture growth all extract a small proportion of the total P in a soil; ideally a P-fraction that consistently indicates how much P is available for plant growth. Because different soil P tests differ in the extraction solution used or the method of extraction, the number generated by each test may differ substantially. It is, therefore, important to be familiar with the test that you are using and the critical test value above which no further response to fertiliser application is likely.

    Figure 1: The relationship between percentage of maximum pasture yield and the Olsen P soil test value derived from experiments collated nationally by Gourley et al. (2007). The critical Olsen P soil test value at 95% of pasture production is 15 mg P/kg soil.

    By contrast, interpretation of the Colwell P test is a two-step procedure because the critical P value of a soil varies with its Phosphorus Buffering Index (PBI) value (Figure 2). PBI is a measure of a soils ability to readily sorb (bind) phosphate from soil solution (Burkitt et al. 2002; Burkitt et al. 2008). So for a fertiliser and grazing demonstration trial at Bookham, NSW where the soil had a PBI = 80, a critical Colwell P value of about 32 mg P/kg soil can be predicted from the PBI-critical Colwell relationship (Fig. 2). In fact, the results from an experiment examining the response of clover-rich pasture to P application at this site agree reasonably well with the critical Colwell value predicted using the site PBI (Fig. 3). This means that in this particular soil, pasture yield will be improved by applying P if the Colwell soil test is less than 32 mg P/kg, but will yield little extra pasture if the soil test value is greater than this value.

    Figure 2: The relationship between critical Colwell P and the Phosphorus Buffering Index values of soil as derived from experiments collated nationally by Gourley et al. (2007). The critical Colwell P value is the soil test value predicted to produce 95% of pasture yield.

    Figure 3: Response during spring of sub clover-rich pasture (clover = 60% of pasture dry matter) to soil P fertility in two separate years ( 2002; 2003) at Bookham, NSW (Phosphorus Buffering Index for this soil = 80). The critical soil fertility level corresponding to 95% of maximum growth rate is indicated by the arrow.




    100 15 20

    SandSandy loam

    Sandy clay loamClay loam


    30 40Olsen P soil test value

    (mg P/kg soil)




    of m


    um p


    re y







    1000 200 300 400 500 600Phosphorus buffering index

    Colwell P criticalsoil test value = 19.6+1.1xPBI




    l crit



    l tes

    t val




    g so


    Colwell P soil test value (mg/kg)








    e pa


    e gr




    Target for soil fertility management


    1 20 60504030

  • Step 1 5


    1When is a response to P expected and when is it not expected? Pasture growing in P-deficient soil grows relatively slowly at a rate governed by the soils ability to supply P to the pasture plants. Often this means that water-use efficiency (pasture grown per mm rainfall) will be relatively poor and productivity per hectare of land will be low. When P is applied, plant growth rate increases and more pasture is grown within each season. Consequently, more animals can be sustained per hectare. With fertiliser additions that lift soil P fertility a point will be reached where the soil can supply enough P for maximum pasture growth rates to be achieved. This is known as the critical soil fertility level and increasing soil P fertility above this point will not result in further increases in yield.

    Many graziers complain that their pastures are no longer responding to P. There are a number of possible reasons why this might occur (not all good), but a good reason would be that soil fertility may have been built to the point where no further pasture response is expected. Then it may be possible to shift down to lower fertiliser application rates that maintain high pasture production without excess fertiliser use.

    Another reason why a response to P may not be seen in a P-deficient soil can be the existence of another nutrient deficiency. In general it is expected that the most deficient nutrient in the soil will limit pasture growth rate. So if another nutrient is more deficient for plant growth than P, there will be little or no response to P applications. The nutrients that are most common