Quantifying the Limitation to World Cereal Production Due To Soil Phosphorus Status

Marko Kvakić, Sylvain Pellerin, Philippe Ciais, David L. Achat, Laurent Augusto, Pascal Denoroy, James S. Gerber, Daniel Goll, Alain Mollier, Nathaniel D. Mueller, Xuhui Wang, Bruno Ringeval

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

35 Scopus citations


Phosphorus (P) is an essential element for plant growth. Low P availability in soils is likely to limit crop yields in many parts of the world, but this effect has never been quantified at the global scale by process-based models. Here we attempt to estimate P limitation in three major cereals worldwide for the year 2000 by combining information on soil P distribution in croplands and a generic crop model, while accounting for the nature of soil-plant P transport. As a global average, the diffusion-limited soil P supply meets the crop's P demand corresponding to the climatic yield potential, due to the legacy soil P in highly fertilized areas. However, when focusing on the spatial distribution of P supply versus demand, we found strong limitation in regions like North and South America, Africa, and Eastern Europe. Averaged over grid cells where P supply is lower than demand, the global yield gap due to soil P is estimated at 22, 55, and 26% in winter wheat, maize, and rice. Assuming that a fraction (20%) of the annual P applied in fertilizers is directly available to the plant, the global P yield gap lowers by only 5–10%, underlying the importance of the existing soil P supply in sustaining crop yields. The study offers a base for exploring P limitation in crops worldwide but with certain limitations remaining. These could be better accounted for by describing the agricultural P cycle with a fully coupled and mechanistic soil-crop model.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)143-157
Number of pages15
JournalGlobal Biogeochemical Cycles
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2018

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study was supported by “Institute National de la Recherche Agronomique” (INRA) and “Laboratoire des Sciences du Climat et de l’Environnement” (LSCE). We are thankful to Thomas Nesme, Pietro Barbieri, and Hugo Fernandez- Mena for their valuable input and dis cussions on scientific writing. All of the data analysis and processing were done with GNU Octave (John W Eaton et al., https://www.gnu.org/software/octave/).

Publisher Copyright:
©2018. American Geophysical Union. All Rights Reserved.


  • cropland
  • diffusion
  • global
  • nutrient
  • phosphorus
  • yield gap


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