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What is a plant nutrient? Changing definitions to advance science and innovation in plant nutrition

Current definitions of essential or beneficial elements for plant growth rely on narrowly defined criteria that do not fully represent a new vision for plant nutrition and compromise fertilizer regulation and practice. A new definition of what is a plant nutrient that is founded in science and relevant in practice has the potential to revitalize innovation and discovery. A proposed new definition might read: A mineral plant nutrient is an element which is needed for plant growth and development or for the quality attributes of the harvested product, of a given plant species, grown in its natural or cultivated environment. It includes elements currently identified as essential, elements for which a clear plant metabolic function has been identified, as well as elements that have demonstrated clear benefits to plant productivity, crop quality, resource use efficiency, stress tolerance or pest and disease resistance. We propose an open scientific debate to refine and implement this updated definition of plant nutrients. Other outcomes of this debate could be a more precise definition of the experimental evidence required to classify an element as a plant nutrient, and an independent scientific body to regularly review the list of essential and beneficial nutrients. The debate could also attempt to refine the definition of plant nutrients to better align with nutrients deemed essential for animal and human nutrition, thus following a more holistic ’one nutrition‘ concept.

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