A .E. "Johnny" Johnston receiving the IPNI Award at a Ceremony in the United States
The International Plant Nutrition Institute (IPNI), Norcross, Georgia, USA has recently announced that A.E. "Johnny" Johnston has been awarded the 2012 Science Award. Johnny has been the principal agronomic advisor to the UxP network since its founding in 2010. We join in congratulating him warmly on this well-deserved outstanding international honour.
Johnny has spent his distinguished professional career at Rothamsted Research, UK, where he is now a Lawes Trust Senior Fellow. Johnny has been a key figure in preserving and developing the celebrated Rothamsted Archive which has captured crop and soil samples from the Rothamsted long-term field studies for over 150 years.
This unique project – comprising the world's longest running agricultural field experiments - was initiated by the father of the international superphosphate industry, John Bennett Lawes. Lawes was the first successful commercial producer who recognised the essential role of science and technology in enabling efficient manufacture and use of phosphate fertilisers. Lawes's beneficence ensured that the field experiments on crop nutrition and soil fertility that he started with Joseph Henry Gilbert, could be continued after their deaths.
It was in part data from the experiment he started that allowed Johnny to make the analysis of the social, economic and environmental benefits of extracting uranium from phosphates. This is sustainability in action.
In recognising Johnny's immense contribution to agronomy, IPNI comments:
The IPNI Award is presented each year to one agronomic scientist. Private or public sector agronomists, crop scientists, and soil scientists from all countries are eligible for nomination. The award recognizes outstanding achievements in research, extension, or education which focus on efficient and effective management of plant nutrients and their positive interaction in fully integrated crop production that enhance yield potential. The purpose of the award is to acknowledge and promote distinguished contributions by scientists involved with ecological crop intensification where productivity is increased and the environment is improved.
At a recent UxP review and planning meeting in London, Professor Julian Hilton and Dr. Malika Moussaid took the opportunity to congratulate Johnny on behalf of the UxP network.
A.E."Johnny" Johnston (C) with Professor Julian Hilton, Chairman UxP Expert Working Group (L) and Dr. Malika Moussaid, CEO Aleff Group (R) celebrating the IPNI Award
Johnny is a leading advocate of the "win/win" opportunity offered by uranium extraction from phosphates as a sustainable, environmentally benign practice that contributes simultaneously to food and energy security.
He pinpointed this opportunity in his contribution to the Phosphate "summit" held in London, February 16-17, 2010 at the UK Farmers' Club under the joint patronage of Aleff Group and the International Fertiliser Society. As a result it was taken up as a key recommendation to the founding meeting of UxP, Paris, June 2010.
Johnny firmly agrees with the assessment of Mike Lloyd (see UxP Newsletter, March 5, 2012) in welcoming renewed interest in the extraction of uranium from phosphoric acid as a potential "win/win". For both Johnny and Mike the process has a number of advantages: the technology is mature and dependable, with extraction efficiency running at well over 95%; the environmental impact is low given that the mining and much of the processing has already been done before the process of extracting the uranium is even started. And in the end the uranium in the phosphoric acid is not lost to the nuclear fuel cycle.
Expressing his pleasure at receiving the IPNI Award Johnny commented:
having made such progress with our understanding of critical P values at the level of individual soils to ensure optimum crop production, it is very encouraging now to extend that vision of efficient P management to global P needs, seen against the background of an emerging understanding as to how to manage linked energy resources such as P, U, oil and gas and coal, all of which are found in similar sedimentary basins.
In their seminal 2008 work Efficiency of Soil and Fertilizer Phosphorus Use, Syers, Johnston and Curtin (Syers et al, 2008) effectively rewrite our understanding of the way P functions in the soil.
Uniquely in the history of "game-changing" publications of this kind on fertiliser use, the study was co-published with the support of all the key stakeholders, from both private and public sectors, namely the Fertilizer Institute, the International Fertilizer Industry Association, the International Plant Nutrition Institute itself, IMPHOS and FAO as lead.
The study is ground-breaking. While it had previously been thought that much of the P applied to soil was effectively lost, the Efficiency of Soil and Fertilizer Phosphorus Use demonstrates from a review of available evidence that this is not the case.
In fact, P reserves are stored in the soil in "pools" of progressively increasing bio-availability, and as one pool is depleted so the next most available pool of P tops it up. This resource transfer process appears to be regulated by fundamental physic-chemical energy transfer mechanisms in the soil.
Conceptual diagram for the forms of inorganic phosphorus in soils categorized in terms of accessibility, extractability, and plant availability. The arrows only indicate the transfer of phosphorus between the pools, not the amount or rate of transfer of phosphorus (from Syers et al. 2008)
This complete change in our understanding of the behaviour of P permits two major insights into how P can be efficiently managed in the future:
Critical P value: the level of readily-plant available P in a soil (i.e. P in pools 1 and 2), which is sufficient to ensure that P does not limit yield, is the “critical P value”. This level of P can be determined by any routine method of soil analysis that accurately characterises a soil in terms of its available P status. The critical P value is maintained by replacing the P removed in the harvested crops. The amount of P required to reach and then maintain, the critical level may be calculated on a soil-by-soil, field-by-field basis, grounded in detailed soil analysis. This yields current state (synchronic) data, which can be referenced to long-term (diachronic) data, such as from the Rothamsted field experiments, so allowing the measurement over time of the behaviour and trends of P reserves in such conditions. At any given point, the farmer or agronomist can draw on that data to calculate what quantity of P is needed to reach and maintain the critical P value at a particular point in time. As determined by the balance method (Syers et al., 2008), when P is applied to maintain the critical level it is used with 80-90% efficiency.
Keeping this value at its optimum level ensures not just the efficient use of P but also acts as a key regulator to the performance of micro-nutrients as well as the macro-nutrients N and K. When combined with good practices in agriculture such as accurate timing and in-line or plant specific nutrient application, the maximum return can be achieved in respect of yield and value for money, with the additional benefit of reducing or even eliminating any run-off to the environment.
Closed system: based on this new understanding that P applied to soil is not lost or locked, but simply is retained in varying degrees of availability it becomes possible to regard P management at both field (micro) and global (macro) levels as operating within an essentially closed rather than open system. By aggregating critical P values at the micro-level, an approximation can be achieved of likely present and future global demand for P. This approximation can be increasingly refined by accurate record keeping in regard to present nutrient application and retrospectively by analysis of the actual performance of the nutrient regime in respect to relative impact on yield.
After a small number of iterations, the level of confidence in the calculation of overall global requirement of P in agriculture, both at any given growing season but also overall in regard to demand for food and fibre will rapidly reach a level of predictability that will greatly facilitate the global push towards food security. This prospect is very timely as the world seeks to rise to the challenge of producing 60% more food on essentially the dame productive land area as now by 2050. Such efforts will clearly not be enough on their own completely to close the P life-cycle; that will require major improvements upstream in mining and processing and downstream in recovering and recycling P.
Commenting on the award to Johnny, Malika Moussaid said:
"it is not surprising given the brilliance of this study that Johnny should be the recipient of such a major award. It is very well deserved. Congratulations to Johnny on this richly merited award for a lifetime of service to agronomic science from the entire UxP community".
By a happy accident of timing, Johnny has been collaborating recently on a discussion paper addressing these and other related opportunities for efficient management of P under the title Food Security and Phosphorus: Enhanced Management of the Phosphorus Life Cycle Better Using the Nash Equilibrium Approach.
This paper is now released in parallel with this special edition of the UxP Newsletter. It can be downloaded from www.uxponline.com. Johnny and Julian both look forward to the feedback they hope this paper will generate from the UxP community.
Please send your news items for inclusion in future release of UXP Network News to:
Dr. Malika Moussaid, UxP Network News Coordinator, Aleff Group, London, UK
Dr. Malika Moussaid
UXP WEBSITE www.uxponline.com