Potassium and Water Quality in Agricultural Applications

As a nutrient essential to plant growth and reproduction, potassium plays a vital role in modern agricultural processes. When a plant becomes potassium deficient, they, in turn, become less drought and excess water resistant and are more sensitive to high or low temperatures. They also show less resilience to pests and disease. 

In short, potassium has an immense effect on a plant and, if balanced correctly in its nutrient uptake, can be a factor in the final product’s size, shape, and color. Potassium can increase crop yields by:

  • Increasing root output
  • Activating enzymes that assist in plant growth
  • Aiding in photosynthesis
  • Reducing water loss
  • Curtailing the spread of disease
  • And more


With so many knock-on benefits to crop resiliency, it’s no wonder potassium plays an essential part in agricultural best practices and is a nutrient that requires monitoring when water quality is a concern.

Is Potassium Naturally Occurring in Soil?

While potassium is an abundant, naturally occurring nutrient (with content typically exceeding 20,000 ppm), nearly 98% of the total potassium found in soil resides in insoluble primary minerals that do not chemically break down with ease. While potassium release does happen slowly and naturally, the amounts of potassium that ultimately escape the minerals occur in such small quantities that the natural process does not meet the needs of growing crops. 

There are other ways potassium can get to crops: slowly available potassium (originating from dissolved minerals and/or potassium fertilizers) and readily available potassium. When a natural supply of potassium is not enough to maintain crop health, farmers must adopt a fertilization program. However, excessive use of potassium fertilizers can lead to too much potassium in plants, disrupting nutrient balance and affecting overall plant health.

The Importance of Balance in Agriculture

With potassium being a critical aspect of a crop’s overall health, it’s not uncommon to have the nutrient as part of a fertilization program. Fertilization helps crops obtain the nutrients they need and allows farmers to ensure abundant harvests. Often, potassium applications will be used with just the right chemicals and nutrients to keep pests and diseases at bay while reinforcing the robust output of grains, fruit, and produce.

Potassium in agriculture has a lot of upside for plant health. Still, it’s not the only nutrient plants need. Nutrients like phosphorus, magnesium, nitrogen and other elements play pivotal roles in a plant’s healthy development. However, if potassium is out of balance (for example, too high), it can throw off the balance of magnesium, another essential nutrient requirement. Therefore, while too little potassium comes with one set of problems, too much can also affect the overall crop output. A careful balance is necessary to ensure that the right mix of nutrients reaches the plants at the right time while proper soil composition maintains the appropriate pH. This balanced approach to nutrient management in open-field operations allows farmers to maintain yields. 

Balancing nutrients is not a one-size-fits-all proposition. What a plant needs varies from crop type to soil composition, and geography also has a vital role in proper nutrient management and water quality monitoring. 

Geography and Potassium Availability

The amount of potassium supplied by soils can vary widely based on the composition (as well as soil weathering). For example, the amount of naturally occurring potassium can be high in clay-based soil, which retains potassium more readily and can have a lower concentration low in sandier areas. However, with soil composition varying across regions, potassium-related fertilizer programs differ across the country. 

Potassium applications must be monitored carefully, as the addition of potassium at too high of a concentration can affect magnesium uptake in crops. In sandy, coastal plains soil (like those in California), high potassium fertilization may be needed – yet so will magnesium applications, with magnesium levels being relatively low in sandy soil. The Mississippi flood plain, however, requires a different balance of nutrient application as, in these soils, magnesium and phosphorus are typically high but suffer from potassium deficiency. 

Potassium and Changing Water Conditions/Sources

Water sources are also changing, and water composition may change with ground and surface water levels at record lows in places like the southwest. Some communities are also using wastewater as a source of irrigation water to protect communities (especially in Southern California) where ground, surface, and drinking water may be dwindling due to historic drought conditions. 

In California, for example, the state aims to reuse 2.5 million acre-feet of wastewater. The challenge, however, will be to ensure wastewater, which by the nature of the treatment, often has a higher concentration of potassium and magnesium, does not adversely affect surface water or become detrimental to plant health. To ensure this is not the case, farmers will have to monitor wastewater applications on crops carefully and may need to rebalance water composition to guarantee proper nutrient application and delivery. And to that, farmers will need the help of innovative water quality monitoring solutions that can provide better water quality monitoring that delivers faster results more efficiently than traditional manual sampling or third-party lab testing. 

KETOS: Helping Farmers Harmonize Nutrients By Automating Water Quality

Farmers have a lot to gain by monitoring their water quality. By leveraging technology, they can balance their water in real-time. Using automation allows farmers to understand water composition before administering nutrients to plants, ensuring usage in the proper amounts during fertilizer and chemical application. This will enable plants to ingest the proper nutrients at the correct levels (and the right time) to help their growth, maintain health, and increase yield. 

KETOS uses IoT, automation, and cloud-enabled data capture to monitor water for 30+ parameters, including potassium. Samples are analyzed and delivered in real-time to a water operator’s laptop, phone, or tablet so that they can act on lab-accurate readings and balance their water accordingly.

As a modular device, KETOS can be placed strategically across business operations, meaning it can cover water for different uses. It can also be placed at various geographic locations, covering every part of your agricultural setup while centralizing readings on one easy-to-access dashboard.

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