Categories: Agriculture; economic botany and plant uses; nutrients and nutrition; soil

Fertilizers are materials used to modify the chemical composition of soil in order to enhance plant growth. They represent an important use of natural resources because agricultural systems depend upon an ability to retain soil fertility.

Soil is a dynamic, chemically reactive medium, and agricultural soils must provide structural support for plants, contain a sufficient supply of plant nutrients, and exhibit an adequate capacity to hold and exchange minerals.

Topsoil, the 6-inch layer of soil covering the earth's landmasses, is the root zone for the majority of the world's food and fiber crops. As plants grow and develop, they remove the essential mineral nutrients from the soil. Because crop production normally requires the removal of plants or plant parts, nutrients are continuously being removed from the soil. Therefore, the long-term agricultural use of any soil requires periodic fertilization to replace these lost nutrients. Fertilizers are associated with every aspect of this nutrient replacement process. The application of fertilizer is based on a knowledge of plant growth and development, soil chemistry, and plant-soil interactions.

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