Remineralizing soils? The agricultural usage of silicate rock powders: A review

Soil nutrient depletion threatens global food security and has been seriously underestimated for potassium (K) and several micronutrients. This is particularly the case for highly weathered soils in tropical countries, where classical soluble fertilizers are often not affordable or not accessible. One way to replenish macro- and micronutrients are ground silicate rock powders (SRPs). Rock forming silicate minerals contain most nutrients essential for higher plants, yet slow and inconsistent weathering rates have restricted their use in the past. Recent findings, however, challenge past agronomic objections which insufficiently addressed the factorial complexity of the weathering process. This review therefore first presents a framework with the most relevant factors for the weathering of SRPs through which several outcomes of prior studies can be explained. A subsequent analysis of 48 crop trials reveals the potential as alternative K source and multi-nutrient soil amendment for tropical soils, whereas the benefits for temperate soils are currently inconclusive. Beneficial results prevail for mafic and ultramafic rocks like basalts and rocks containing nepheline or glauconite. Several rock modifications are highly efficient in increasing the agronomic effectiveness of SRPs. Enhanced weathering of SRPs could additionally sequester substantial amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere and silicon (Si) supply can induce a broad spectrum of plant biotic and abiotic stress resistance. Recycling massive amounts of rock residues from domestic mining industries could furthermore resolve serious disposal challenges and improve fertilizer self-sufficiency. In conclusion, under the right circumstances, SRPs could not only advance low-cost and regional soil sustaining crop production but contribute to various sustainable development goals.

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