Phosphorus is a key nutrient, but can lead to toxic algal blooms and water-quality problems in lakes, rivers, and estuaries across the globe. It enters water from a variety of sources, including agriculture, both inorganic and manure-based farming practices. Improved understanding of phosphorus chemistry in soils is essential to allowing us to better manage and protect water quality. Now, a group of scientists in Australia and USA have used 31P NMR spectroscopy to characterise phosphorus in soils resulting from different long-term agricultural practices. "In terms of potential phosphorus loss in the long run, organic materials containing large amounts of phytate-P such as poultry manure may not differ from other material containing mainly inorganic P," team leader Zhengxia Dou explains.