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Introduction to Inorganic and Organic Nutrients

B y D a v i d W. D i b b

he word nutrient is a derivation of the material in some stage of decomposition) are word nutrition, which implies food. found in all agricultural soils and are conThe term essential nutrient, then, is stantly in transition back to their inorganic redundant in the sense that essentiality is form. As they decompose, they contribute to dened as necessary to sustain life and food the total soil inorganic nutrient pool necessustains life. In the plant world, an element sary to grow the worlds food requirement. is considered essential if it Attempting to separate There are differences in is necessary for the plant to organic and inorganic nutriinorganic and organic nutricomplete its life cycle. No ents is difcult and of limitents, but there are also simiother element can substitute ed value because natures larities. It is important to for it completely. Of the eleprocesses are continually understand the advantages ments that have been identicycling them from one form and disadvantages as well ed by scientists, only a relto another. All nutrients go as the limitations of both atively small proportion is through natural cycles, folnutrient sources. known to be essential to lowing various pathways to plants and animals. their final destination of Plant nutrients include gases, metals, being absorbed and utilized by plants that and non-metals. All exist naturally, in both grow all the food for humans and animals. In inorganic and organic forms. Three of the the process, some, such as N, P, and S, cycle nutrients, nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and back and forth between the inorganic and sulfur (S), are present in both inorganic and organic pools. organic forms. Crops grow in a very thin It is important to note that when layer of the Earths crust, so it is important supplied to plants in the organic form, that nutrient levels be maintained by the nutrients still must cycle through the addition of both organic (plant and animal inorganic form before becoming availresidues) and inorganic (manufactured min- able to plants. In fact, organic nutrient eral fertilizers) sources. sources can be differentiated from inorganic Sometimes the word organic is used in (mineral) fertilizers in that they must be connection with food. Often it is used to sug- decomposed before the nutrients they congest that organic foods contain only good or tain are released, hopefully at a time when natural elements that somehow enhance crop plants can use them. On the other hand, plant and animal health when compared to inorganic nutrients are supplied in soluble those foods grown with synthetic chemicals. or slowly soluble forms, so the plant will Actually, whether organic or inorganic, all have them available and take them up when elements are chemical. The term organic they are needed. relates to living (or the remains of once living) substances which contain carbon (C). Dr. Dibb is President of the Potash & Phosphate Organic substances (dead plant or animal Institute, located at Norcross, Georgia.

Better Crops/Vol. 86 (2002, No. 2)