Plant Nutrition and Soil Fertility

Course content

The course is organized in three major themes:

Theme 1, Soil Fertility: The key-parameters controlling plant nutrient availability in soil, soil organic matter stability, carbon sequestration and emission of greenhouse gases (CO2, CH4 and N2O) from the soil, water and plant system.

Theme 2, Plant Nutritional Physiology: The key-roles of plant nutrients in plant metabolism and how climate change will affect the nutritional status of plants and their ability to resist draught, salinity and acidity stresses.

Theme 3, Fertilization: Inorganic fertilizers and quality of organic manures and other bio-based fertilizers, how to maximize crop nutrient use efficiency and reduce fertilizer derived greenhouse gas emissions.


In the course you will learn about the chemical, physical and biological parameters controlling soil fertility and soil quality and you learn how to relate these parameters to the impacts of climate change.

You will learn how to optimize soil fertility in order to support plant productivity in a changing climate and you will learn about adverse soils conditions such as soil salinity, acidity, alkalinity, drought and flooding.

The possibilities to restore soil fertility under adverse conditions will be presented and a special focus will be given to the challenges related to climate change.

You will obtain detailed knowledge on the functionality of all 14 essential mineral plant nutrients and be able to understand their characteristics and behavior at all key-points, including release from soil aggregates into the soil solution; ion movement; ion uptake in roots; translocation to the shoot, assimilation in the plant tissue and remobilization during plant development. In addition, you will obtain detailed information about their specific roles in plant metabolism and you will learn how to diagnose and chemically analyse the nutritional status of plants.

The course deals with strategies for sustainable management of inorganic fertilizers, organic manures and green manures in order optimize plant productivity, nutrient use efficiency and to reduce nutrient losses to the environment. Focus will also be on how the use of synthetic fertilizers and organic manures may impact climate change, and how potential impacts may be mitigated through best management practices of fertilizers and manures as well as through increased used of bio-based and recycled fertilizers.

The course is mainly focused on temperate plant production systems, but has an international perspective and will also include minor topics within low-input and warmer climate plant production systems.

The course provides important key-competences for all career paths dealing with sustainable management of soil, water and plants in a changing climate. It is fundamental for jobs providing plant and soil based consultancy services for plant producers (agriculture, horticulture and forestry), in public administration or in international organizations dealing with plant production, nature management and sustainability issues, as well as teaching and research at college and university levels.


MSc Programme in Agriculture

MSc Programme in Environment and Development

MSc Programme in Environmental Science

MSc Programme in Global Environment and Development



Learning outcome

Course Objectives:

You will obtain advanced and applicable knowledge on the biological, chemical and physical processes affecting plant nutrient availability and losses of nutrients applied in inorganic fertilizers, organic manures and soil amendments commonly used in modern plant production, and how this affects soil organic matter stability, carbon sequestration and emission of greenhouse gases.

You will obtain in-depth knowledge on the functionality of essential plant nutrients in plant metabolism at all key-steps from the cellular to the whole plant and ecosystem levels. You will obtain contemporary knowledge on how climate change may affect the nutritional status of plants and their ability to resist stress.

You will become capable of evaluating plant and soil nutrient status, to diagnose plant nutrient disorders and to plan fertilization strategies at the crop and field system levels.


You will obtain in-depth knowledge that allow you to:

  • Describe the biological and chemical processes affecting soil fertility, with a special focus on processes controlling the availability of essential plant nutrients, soil carbon sequestration and greenhouse gas emissions. 
  • Describe key-aspects of plant nutritional physiology and the functionality of nutrients in plants, including the effects of climate change and how the nutritional status affects plant resilience to stress
  • Describe the effects of fertilization and soil fertility management on crop yield and quality
  • Demonstrate an overview on the effects of fertilization on plant growth, nutrient losses and greenhouse gas emissions to the environment



  • Evaluate soil fertility and the nutrient status of crops using soil and plant analyses.
  • Diagnose nutrient disorders in crops.
  • Suggest appropriate and sustainable remediation strategies to restore and optimize soil fertility and plant productivity.



  • You will understand the complexity of plant nutrition and soil fertility and you will be obtain the academic qualifications that allow you to navigate within this complexity. 
  • You will gain competences that allow you to discus and predict how the soil, water and plant system will react when exposed to a range of changes.

Lectures, Theoretical Exercises and Demonstrations of plants with nutritional disorders in the university greenhouse.

Each module will start with a short presentation of the learning objectives of the day. It is followed by a couple of lectures (typically 2 x 45 min) followed by student centered activities, ending with a summary lecture and discussion. The lectures will often deviate from the contents presented in the textbook, in order to introduce the subject from several angles. Consequently it will be difficult to meet the learning objectives for each module, if lectures are not followed on-class.

The student centered activities (theoretical and practical exercises) will be conducted in groups and/or individually. There will also be a few guest lecturers from colleagues in the department. On several full days we will also organize “Research Flashes”, where you will meet selected PhD students who will give some short flash presentations about their research work.

We primarily use a compendium authored by the course teachers but in addition we use chapters from up-to-date textbooks and reviews. 




It is important that you have passed fundamental courses in inorganic and organic chemistry. We also recommend that you have taken fundamental courses in biochemistry and plant biology. The learning curve of the course is steep and skills in chemistry and plant biology provide you with a much better learning outcome.

For Danish students we recommend the following courses:

LBIB10188 Jord, Vand og Planter
LPLB10306 Grundlæggende Plantebiologi

Academic qualifications equivalent to a BSc degree is recommended.

Continuous feedback during the course of the semester
7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Continuous assessment, 2 x 60 min under invigilation
Written assignment, 24 hours exam
Type of assessment details
The course has continuous assessment within the three major themes (see detailed description of these). Theme 1 and 2 are assessed with 60 min tests without aids and theme 3 assesment of a written assignment. The three parts are weighted equally.
Without aids
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
No external censorship
One internal examiner

Oral examination, 20 min, 20 min preparation without aids.

Criteria for exam assessment

The students will be continuously assessed based on outputs within the topics of the three themes of the course. The assessment includes the following elements:

Theme 1: Soil Fertility

The test consists of 30-40 questions within the curriculum of theme 1 - typically as a mixture between multiple-choice, calculations and questions requiring very short and specific answers. The test is without any aids.

Theme 2: Plant Nutritional Physiology

This test will consist of 30-40 short and specific questions/multiple choice questions within the curriculum of theme 2, combined with an extensive use of images of plants suffering from various stresses to be diagnosed. This test is without any aids.

Theme 3: Fertilization and organic manures

A written assignment where students will be given some specific questions and/or figures to be described, analyzed and interpreted in a short essay (max. 3 A4 pages). Each student will be given individual combinations of questions. 

Each theme will be marked according to the 7-point ECTS scale (grade values: 12, 10, 7, 4, 02, 00, -3; corresponding to A, B, C, D, E, Fx, F, respectively. The marks from the 3 themes contribute equally to the average final course grade. If one output is not handed in or the test is not completed in time, this will count as -3. If two or more of the outputs are failed or not completed in time, the student will overall fail the course, regardless of the grade in the remaining test. If the average final grade is less than 2, the student will also fail.

Illness on the day of examination should be reported to the teacher and a doctors declaration should be requested.

Single subject courses (day)

  • Category
  • Hours
  • Lectures
  • 60
  • Preparation
  • 109
  • Theory exercises
  • 20
  • Practical exercises
  • 5
  • Exam
  • 12
  • English
  • 206


Course number
7,5 ECTS
Programme level
Full Degree Master

1 block

Block 1
The number of places might be reduced if you register in the late-registration period (BSc and MSc) or as a credit or single subject student.
Study Board of Natural Resources, Environment and Animal Science
Contracting department
  • Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences
Contracting faculty
  • Faculty of Science
Course Coordinator
  • Søren Husted   (3-83788550807c757e3e7b853e747b)

Søren Husted (Course coordinator)
Lars Stoumann Jensen
Daniel Persson
Veronika Hansen
Grmay Lilay

Saved on the 19-02-2024

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Courseinformation of students