A Review of The Use of Phosphate Rocks As Fertilisers For Direct Application in Australia and New Zealand

N. S. Bolan, R. E. White, M. J. Hedley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

108 Citations (Scopus)


Field trials in New Zealand have shown that reactive phosphate rocks (RPRs) can be as effective as soluble P fertilisers, per kg of P applied, on permanent pastures that have a soil pH<6.0 (in water) and a mean annual rainfall >800 mm. Whereas RPRs such as North Carolina, Sechura, Gafsa and Chatham Rise have been evaluated on permanent pastures in New Zealand, most Australian field trials have examined unreactive PRs such as Christmas Island A and C grade, Nauru and Duchess, using annual plant species. Only in recent experiments has an RPR, North Carolina, been examined. Except on the highly leached sands in southern and south-western Australia, both reactive and unreactive PRs have shown a low effectiveness relative to superphosphate. in addition to chemical reactivity, other factors may contribute to the difference in the observed agronomic effectiveness of PRs in Australia and New Zealand. Generally, PRs have been evaluated on soils of lower pH, higher pH buffering capacity (as measured by titratable acidity) and higher P status in New Zealand than in Australia. Rainfall is more evenly distributed throughout the year on New Zealand pastures than in Australia where the soil surface dries out between rainfall events. Dry conditions reduce the rate at which soil acid diffuses to a PR granule and dissolution products diffuse away. Even when pH and soil moisture are favourable, the release of P from PR is slow and more suited to permanent pasture (i.e. the conditions usually used to evaluate PRs in New Zealand) than to the annual pastures or crops used in most Australian trials. Based on the criteria of soil pH<6.0 and mean annual rainfall >800 mm, it is estimated that the potentially suitable area for RPRs on pasture in New Zealand is about 8 million ha. Extending this analysis to Australia, but excluding the seasonal rainfall areas of northern and south-western Australia, the potentially suitable area is about 13 million ha. in New Zealand, many of the soils in the North and South Islands satisfy both the pH and rainfall criteria. However, suitable areas in Australia are confined mainly to the coastal and tableland areas of New South Wales and eastern Victoria, and within these areas the actual effectiveness of RPR will depend markedly on soil management and the distribution of annual rainfall. Further research on RPR use should be focused on these areas.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)297-313
Number of pages17
JournalAustralian Journal of Experimental Agriculture
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1990
Externally publishedYes


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