Article •  12/4/2023

Unlocking Phosphorus is Key to a Thriving Corn Crop

Something went wrong. Please try again later...

Crops need certain nutrients to survive and thrive. For corn, phosphorus is a vital element—second only to nitrogen in its importance for plant health. But it is also notoriously difficult to manage. Farmers have to walk a virtual tightrope to make sure their corn crop gets enough phosphorus while reducing potential waste of this valuable input.

A life-sustaining mineral

Phosphorus fuels critical processes in corn, and all living things—including people! In plants, this mineral helps capture, store and convert energy from the sun. This facilitates plant reproduction and, in turn, grain production.

Proper amounts of phosphorus also contribute to:

  • Improved crop quality
  • Winter hardiness
  • Greater stalk strength
  • Increased root growth
  • Earlier crop maturity
  • Water use efficiency

Without adequate amounts of this nutrient, plants can’t grow and develop properly, which negatively influences yield potential.1-3

Sources of soil phosphorus

Plants can only absorb phosphorus from the soil. Phosphorus gets into the soil through three basic mechanisms: (1) weathering of rocks; (2) organic matter sources, including manure and decomposing organisms; and (3) inorganic sources, such as chemical fertilizers added to the soil.4

Most soils are actually rich in this mineral, just not in a form that is useful to plants. About 80% of the phosphorus in the soil is immobile, meaning plants can’t take it in.3 In a given acre of land, there may be as much as 2,500 lbs. of phosphorus unavailable to crops.

About 80% of phosphorus (or, phosphate in fertilizer form) in the soil is unavailable to plants.

Supplementing phosphorus

Since phosphorus is so important to healthy crops—but not readily available in a usable form—farmers have been supplementing it in their fields for more than a century. Farmers have inputs like manure and fertilizers made from mined phosphorus to help make sure their plants receive enough of this vital nutrient, but those have an environmental impact.2

Supplementing phosphorus doesn’t mean it is automatically available to plants, either. Phosphorus is finicky. If the soil pH is under 6 or over 7, phosphorus is bound up and unavailable to plants. The same is true in soils that have high clay content, are too cool, too wet (or too dry) or soils with a lot of residues. Unlike other nutrients, phosphorus isn’t carried to roots by water flowing through soil. Plant roots must instead grow to “meet” the mineral where it is present in the soil.

Knowing how much to supplement the mineral is also a challenge. Each year’s corn crop uses up some of the phosphorus in the soil. Farmers need to know how much phosphorus is already in the soil and how much their crop is likely to need in order to determine the ideal amount to supplement. Phosphorus fertilizer is an expensive input. Farmers want to make sure they’re applying an amount their plants can actually use in order to get a good return on investment. Farmers also want to be responsible stewards of the land and judiciously apply only as much fertilizer as their crops need. Too much phosphorus can lead to runoff to waterways, promoting overgrowth of algae.3

Making more phosphorus available, naturally

Biological products can help farmers “unlock” the phosphorus in their soil, so their plants can get better use of the phosphorus that’s already in the soil as well as any fertilizer that might be needed to supplement. Utrisha™ P nutrient efficiency optimizer from Corteva Agriscience is one such product that helps farmers maximize their phosphorus application and return on investment.


Utrisha P helps release soil-bound phosphorus and stimulates root growth.

Utrisha P is a naturally occurring bacteria that helps unlock phosphorus in soil to make more of this nutrient available to plants below-ground. The bacteria in Utrisha P colonizes in the plant roots, producing natural compounds that convert the phosphorus in the soil into a form plants can take in and use. Utrisha P also stimulates root growth. This helps plants reach more phosphorus in the soil. With stronger roots, plants can also better access water and nutrients in general and be more resilient to conditions in the field.

Maximizing nutrition and return on investment

Natural biological products like Utrisha™ P nutrient efficiency optimizer help farmers simplify their approach to the complexities of fertilizing with phosphorus, enabling a more sustainable farm system. Farmers can feel confident that more of their input is being put to good use by their plants and enjoy a better return on investment along with a healthy, thriving corn crop.


1 Chakraborty, Debolina and Rishi Prasad. “Phosphorus Basics: Deficiency Symptoms, Sufficiency Ranges, and Common Sources.” The Alabama Cooperative Extension System. September 2019.

2 Beegle, Douglas B. and Philip T. Durst. “Managing Phosphorus for Crop Production.” Penn State Cooperative Extension. 2002.

3 Prasad, Rishi and Debolina Chakraborty. “Phosphorus Basics: Understanding the Phosphorus Forms and Their Cycling in the Soil.” The Alabama Cooperative Extension System. April 2019.

4 “Phosphorus.” Understanding Global Change. University of California Museum of Paleontology. Accessed June 14, 2023.

Utrisha™ P nutrient efficiency optimizer is not registered for sale or use in all states or countries. Contact your local regulatory agency to determine if a product is registered for sale or use in your area. Always read and follow label directions.