Expected changes to environmental regulation will mean waving goodbye to many sources of phosphorus fertiliser – so could a surprising new production method be the answer?

  • 09
  • NOV
  • 2018

Rothamsted is trialling a new phosphorous fertiliser made from abattoir waste and industrial by-products as part of a ten-month EU funded project.

Concerns over cadmium build-up in soils means that many naturally occurring sources of phosphate could soon be outlawed by the European Government.

According to EDS, the makers of ‘Thallo’, it is high in phosphorus, sulphur and soluble carbon compounds, and perhaps most importantly, low in cadmium.

Mike Ash, Managing Director of EDS said: “Food security starts with the health of the soil. Large-scale agricultural practices and global warming continue to remove essential nutrients rather than replacing them – the consequences of which can be seen in the development of non-communicable diseases in humans, declining quality of food staples and nutritionally stressed livestock.”

Currently, most phosphate fertilisers are derived from rocks, many of which have high cadmium concentrations. This toxic heavy metal will likely soon be the subject of stricter EU regulations.

According to existing Rothamsted data, this new fertiliser contains very little cadmium, making it a potentially important alternative, sustainable, and domestic source of phosphate fertiliser.

Rothamsted’s trial will look at Thallo’s attributes and nutrient release ability, as well as fine tuning the application rate for various crops and soils.

“Independent, third party data on crop yields, crop nutrition, and the longer-term potential benefit to soil health is invaluable in developing our fertilisers and growing our business,” says Ash.

EDS says their patented manufacturing process also recovers previously lost edible protein and fats for human consumption from the carcass, maximising the ‘food value’ of cattle, with all remaining waste being converted into fertiliser.

Khalid Mahmood, Innovation Manager at Rothamsted Research, said: “Helping a local SME to improve their novel product has wider benefits for the environment and food production, not only in the south west of England but globally. This approach of using abattoir waste will support sustainable meat and milk production, and fits well with the circular economy concept. It’s a fantastic project and nicely demonstrates what the Impact Lab is all about.”

The £6m ERDF funded Impact Lab programme was set up to address the Environmental Futures challenge and is a partnership of seven Devon-based research organisations, working together to help local businesses use complex data to create new products and services, particularly those that safeguard the environment.

The programme supports SMEs in the Devon region, through provision of specialist technical support, access to academic expertise, and SME grants.

About Rothamsted Research
Rothamsted Research is the longest-running agricultural research institute in the world. We work from gene to field with a proud history of ground-breaking discoveries, from crop treatment to crop protection, from statistical interpretation to soils management. Our founders, in 1843, were the pioneers of modern agriculture, and we are known for our imaginative science and our collaborative influence on fresh thinking and farming practices.
Through independent science and innovation, we make significant contributions to improving agri-food systems in the UK and internationally. In terms of the institute’s economic contribution, the cumulative impact of our work in the UK was calculated to exceed £3000 million a year in 20151. Our strength lies in our systems approach, which combines science and strategic research, interdisciplinary teams and partnerships.
Rothamsted is also home to three unique resources. These National Capabilities are open to researchers from all over the world: The Long-Term Experiments, Rothamsted Insect Survey and the North Wyke Farm Platform.
We are strategically funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), with additional support from other national and international funding streams, and from industry. We are also supported by the Lawes Agricultural Trust (LAT).
For more information, visit; Twitter @Rothamsted
1Rothamsted Research and the Value of Excellence: A synthesis of the available evidence, by Séan Rickard (Oct 2015)

The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council is part of UK Research and Innovation, a non-departmental public body funded by a grant-in-aid from the UK government.
BBSRC invests in world-class bioscience research and training on behalf of the UK public. Our aim is to further scientific knowledge, to promote economic growth, wealth and job creation and to improve quality of life in the UK and beyond.
Funded by government, BBSRC invested £469 million in world-class bioscience in 2016-17. We support research and training in universities and strategically funded institutes. BBSRC research and the people we fund are helping society to meet major challenges, including food security, green energy and healthier, longer lives. Our investments underpin important UK economic sectors, such as farming, food, industrial biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.
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About LAT
The Lawes Agricultural Trust, established in 1889 by Sir John Bennet Lawes, supports Rothamsted Research’s national and international agricultural science through the provision of land, facilities and funding. LAT, a charitable trust, owns the estates at Harpenden and Broom's Barn, including many of the buildings used by Rothamsted Research. LAT provides an annual research grant to the Director, accommodation for nearly 200 people, and support for fellowships for young scientists from developing countries. LAT also makes capital grants to help modernise facilities at Rothamsted, or invests in new buildings.