Organic Sources of Nutrients: Applications & Best Practices

Organic sources of nutrients have been used since ancient times as a natural way to invigorate and replenish the soil. By understanding how to recycle and use these nutrient sources, farmers can maintain high levels of productivity while protecting their soil and environment.

In this guide, we will discuss the benefits of using organic sources of nutrients, the challenges they present, and best practices for applying organic sources of nutrients. We will also look at restrictions on using synthetic fertilizers, and alternative practices that protect the soil health.

Read on to have a better understanding of the important roles organic sources of nutrients play in maintaining soil health and crop productivity.

organic sources of nutrients

Importance Of Organic Sources of Nutrients For Overall Health And Well-Being

Organic nutrients have many benefits for both soil and crop health. Improved soil health leads to increased nutrient cycling, resulting in higher yields and a better foundation for the farm’s production. 

Here are a few of the benefits related to organic nutrient sources:

  • Organic matter is broken down by soil organisms and releases valuable nutrients into the soil. This offers the plants easier access to nutrients they need to build strong root systems and develop lush foliage.
  • Organic matter also improves the life of the soil by providing space for air and water to move freely through it. This allows for better growth in plants and can help retain moisture for longer periods of time. As these organisms feed on organic matter, they leave behind nutrient-rich waste that provides a continuous source of nourishment for plants.
  • Additionally, when organic nutrients are incorporated into the soil, it helps with increased water infiltration and storage. This helps reduce soil erosion and decreases runoff. 
  • Organic sources of nutrients add life to the soil, promoting microbial activity, healthier plant development and more productive yields.

Challenges and Considerations

Organic sources of nutrients can offer a range of environmental and health benefits, but they come with their own unique set of challenges. 

Applying organic sources of nutrients can be difficult due to their low availability, handling issues, and lack of material needed for commercial crops. Here are some common challenges to consider:

Availability

Organic matter is an important source of nutrients for plants, but the availability and nutrient content varies significantly depending on its origin. Many organic materials can be used, but they tend to have a lower nutrient content than synthetic fertilizers, and they are slowly available to plants.

Nutrient Variability

The variability in the organic material means that the nutrient levels need to be tested and monitored before applying to ensure they are suitable for the crop. 

Nutrients from organic sources can range from around 0-3% of the dry weight, with some having much less. These low levels of nitrogen require more applications compared to synthetic fertilizers, which in turn increases the cost of application.

Handling Difficulty

Organic matter is also very bulky to handle, and it takes time for it to decompose and release nutrients into the soil. This makes it difficult to use in large-scale production systems where there isn’t enough time or material to cover the entire farm. As such, it’s better suited for small farms and home gardens for maximum benefits.

These challenges underscore how important it is to create a proper nutrient management plan that utilizes organic sources in an effective and sustainable way.

Key Organic Sources

Organic sources of nutrients are an important component of sustainable farming systems and effective nutrient management strategies. 

The use of organic sources of nutrients in crop production can provide many benefits such as improved soil health, increased nutrient cycling, higher crop yield, and improved farm foundation. A few key ones include:

1. Nitrogen

Nitrogen is a critical element for all life and is necessary for plant growth. Legumes and blue-green algae in paddy soils are able to fix atmospheric nitrogen, by converting it into ammonium, a form of nitrogen that is easily taken up by plants. 

This process of nitrogen fixation not only supplies plants with an essential nutrient but also enriches the atmosphere with nitrates. Legumes, such as clover and peas, are known to have symbiotic relationships with certain bacteria in their roots that are able to fix nitrogen from the atmosphere. 

Blue-green algae are able to fix nitrogen without any help from symbiotic bacteria. This process of nitrogen fixation allows nutrients to cycle through the soil, enriching it and providing vital sources of nutrition for plants.

2. Composting

Compost and manure are commonly used organic sources of nutrients. The process of decomposition releases nitrogen and other essential minerals into the soil, making them available to plants. 

It also introduces beneficial bacteria into the soil that help to create a healthy and balanced ecosystem for plants. 

Composting is a natural way of breaking down organic matter with oxygen, heat, water, and microorganisms which release the plant nutrients. Composting can be done in a hot or cold method, but for best results, compost should be kept hot as it will compost more quickly and thoroughly. 

Manure can also be used as an organic source of nutrients but has to be used carefully as its high content of nitrogen may damage crops if applied in large amounts, so spreading it on just before planting is recommended.

3. Biosolids

Biosolids and plant residue provide an organic source of nutrients for soils, improving the fertility and, in turn, the productivity of the land. 

Biosolids are nutrient-rich and can be used to add essential elements such as nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, while plant residue from crops provides an organic form of these essential nutrients, along with other beneficial substances to replenish and improve soil health.

The best way to use biosolids and plant residue as organic sources of nutrients is to integrate them into existing farming systems. The application rate should be determined by considering the soil type and its biological characteristics and the crop being grown. 

It is also important to consider nutrient management strategies when applying organic sources of nutrients, ensuring that an appropriate nutrient balance is maintained.

4. Water Treatment Residuals (WTR)

Water Treatment Residuals (WTR) are a source of organic nutrients that can be used to supplement the soil. WTRs are created when wastewater is treated at water treatment plants and consist of organic material, such as plant and animal materials, as well as inorganic compounds like nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium.

Advantages of WTR include their slow release of nutrients, which helps to avoid nutrient leaching and runoff, and their potential to improve soil structure and reduce crusting and water infiltration. 

Furthermore, they can provide several benefits to the soil’s microbiology, such as increased microbial activity and decreased population of soil-borne pathogens.

The main limitation of WTR is their lack of availability due to variability in their contents, depending on their source and treatment process. This means that their nutrient content may be inconsistent and that some elements, such as calcium and magnesium, may not be present in large enough quantities to be useful for plant growth.

In addition, WTRs contain high concentrations of salt, which may damage plants if overdosed; therefore, it is important to apply them in accordance with recommendations from local authorities. 

Since WTRs are often high in nitrogen, it is also necessary to consider how much will be released over time, and whether this would lead to a negative or positive soil environment.

For these reasons, it is important to use best practices when applying WTRs as an organic source of nutrients. This includes integrating WTRs into farming systems, using appropriate nutrient management strategies, and considering environmental implications before application.

organic sources of nutrients

Best Practices for Incorporating Organic Nutrient Sources

When selecting the best practices for applying organic sources of nutrients, it is important to consider their availability, handleability, and low nutrient content. Here are a few things you can do:

  • Organic sources of nutrients should be integrated into farming systems and nutrient management strategies in order to maximize crop yield while protecting soil health. 
  • Regular applications of organic matter are necessary to increase the soil organic matter content to a healthy level of 2-5%
  • It is also important to utilize nitrogen fixation when possible, with legumes and blue-green algae in paddy soils fixing atmospheric nitrogen to ammonium.

By keeping these best practices in mind when applying organic sources of nutrients, farmers can produce healthier crops while reducing the use of synthetic fertilizers. This is a critical step in preserving soil health, ensuring that our land is used sustainably for generations to come.

A Final Word

Throughout this blog, we have explored the world of organic nutrient sources and their applications. Organic sources provide a range of benefits that contribute to our overall health and well-being. 

As a consumer, you hold the power to make conscious choices that positively impact our health, the environment, and the livelihoods of farmers. By supporting local organic producers, you can contribute to the growth of sustainable agriculture and the availability of organic options in our communities. Additionally, organic farming practices promote environmental sustainability and support local communities.

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