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Transitioning from phosphate mining to agriculture: Responses to urea and slow release fertilizers for Sorghum bicolor

Ruthrof, K.X., Steel, E.ORCID: 0000-0002-2299-3408, Misra, S., McComb, J., O'Hara, G., Hardy, G.E.St.J. and Howieson, J. (2018) Transitioning from phosphate mining to agriculture: Responses to urea and slow release fertilizers for Sorghum bicolor. Science of The Total Environment, 625 . pp. 1-7.

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Globally, land-use transition from mining to agriculture is becoming increasingly attractive and necessary for many reasons. However, low levels of necessary plant nutrients, and high levels of heavy metals, can hamper plant growth, affecting yield, and potentially, food safety. In post-phosphate mining substrates, for example, nitrogen (N) is a key limiting nutrient, and, although legumes are planted prior to cereals, N supplementation is still necessary. We undertook two field trials on Christmas Island, Australia, to determine whether Sorghum bicolor could be grown successfully in a post-phosphate mining substrate. The first trial investigated N (urea) demand (amount of N required for adequate crop growth) for S. bicolor, and whether N addition could reduce the naturally occurring cadmium (Cd) concentrations in the crop. The second trial examined whether slow release nitrogen fertilizers (SRF) could replace urea to increase biomass and reduce Cd concentrations. Our first trial demonstrated that S. bicolor has a high N demand, with the highest biomass being recorded in the 160 kg/ha urea treatment. However, plants treated with 80, 120 and 160 kg/ha were not significantly different from one another. After 7 weeks of growth, leaf Cd concentrations were significantly lower for all urea treatments compared with the control plants. However, after 23 weeks, seed Cd concentrations did not differ across treatments. Our second trial demonstrated that the application of SRF (Macracote® and Sulsync®) and 160 kg/ha urea significantly increased biomass above the control plants. There was, however, no treatment response in terms of Cd or N concentrations in the seed at final harvest. Thus, we have shown that N is currently critical for S. bicolor, even following legume cropping, and that high biomass and a significant reduction in Cd can be attained with appropriate levels of urea. Our work has important implications for cereal growth and food safety in post-mining agriculture.

Item Type: Journal Article
Murdoch Affiliation(s): Centre for Rhizobium Studies
School of Veterinary and Life Sciences
Publisher: Elsevier BV
Copyright: © 2017 Elsevier B.V.
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