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The fertiliser industry

The value of nutrients

Nutrients are very important for life to exist. An essential nutrient is any chemical element that is needed for a plant to be able to grow from a seed and complete its life cycle. The same is true for animals. A macronutrient is one that is required in large quantities by the plant or animal, while a micronutrient is one that only needs to be present in small amounts for a plant or an animal to function properly.


A nutrient is a substance that is used in an organism's metabolism or physiology and which must be taken in from the environment.

In plants, the macronutrients include carbon (C), hydrogen (H), oxygen (O), nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K). The source of each of these nutrients for plants, and their function, is summarised in [link] . Examples of micronutrients in plants include iron, chlorine, copper and zinc.

The source and function of the macronutrients in plants
Nutrient Source Function
Carbon Carbon dioxide in the air Component of organic molecules such as carbohydrates, lipids and proteins
Hydrogen Water from the soil Component of organic molecules
Oxygen Water from the soil Component of organic molecules
Nitrogen Nitrogen compounds in the soil Part of plant proteins and chlorophyll. Also boosts plant growth.
Phosphorus Phosphates in the soil Needed for photosynthesis, blooming and root growth
Potassium Soil Building proteins, part of chlorophyll and reduces diseases in plants

Animals need similar nutrients in order to survive. However since animals can't photosynthesise, they rely on plants to supply them with the nutrients they need. Think for example of the human diet. We can't make our own food and so we either need to eat vegetables, fruits and seeds (all of which are direct plant products) or the meat of other animals which would have fed on plants during their life. So most of the nutrients that animals need are obtained either directly or indirectly from plants. [link] summarises the functions of some of the macronutrients in animals.

The functions of animal macronutrients
Nutrient Function
Carbon Component of organic compounds
Hydrogen Component of organic compounds
Oxygen Component of organic compounds
Nitrogen Component of nucleic acids and proteins
Phosphorus Component of nucleic acids and phospholipids
Potassium Helps in coordination and regulating the water balance in the body

Micronutrients also play an important function in animals. Iron for example, is found in haemoglobin, the blood pigment that is responsible for transporting oxygen to all the cells in the body.

Nutrients then, are essential for the survival of life. Importantly, obtaining nutrients starts with plants, which are able either to photosynthesise or to absorb the required nutrients from the soil. It is important therefore that plants are always able to access the nutrients that they need so that they will grow and provide food for other forms of life.

The role of fertilisers

Plants are only able to absorb soil nutrients in a particular form. Nitrogen for example, is absorbed as nitrates , while phosphorus is absorbed as phosphates . The nitrogen cycle (Grade 10) describes the process that is involved in converting atmospheric nitrogen into a form that can be used by plants.

Questions & Answers

what is chain Isomer?
Christian Reply
Where does the functional group of ketone in carbons belong
Keletso Reply
@Matshidiso identify your compound which is an alkane..the general formula for alkane is CnH2n+2... hex-6 substitute n with 6 implying that you'll have 6 carbons and 14 Hydrogens then you can draw your structural formula *NB* every carbon has to have 4 bonds
Kgabo Reply
how can I find the structural formulae and IUPAC names of hexane?
Matshidiso Reply
what are disadvantages of primary cells and advantage of secondary cells?
Thabang Reply
how to draw transverse wave
elia Reply
What is Impulse
Sivuyile Reply
what is work
musa Reply
acceleration of the object towards up is negative and downward motion it is positive. but graph shows negative accceleration only. please explain
lakira Reply
how to name alkene
Mathilda Reply
What's a hydracarborn ?
Kelebogile Reply
what is the meaning of constituent?????
Ree Reply
How to calculate initial and final momentum
Montsi Reply
how to calculate initial and final momentum?
Hector Reply
kilogram.metre per second
Vusi Reply

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Source:  OpenStax, Siyavula textbooks: grade 12 physical science. OpenStax CNX. Aug 03, 2011 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11244/1.2
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