Poor response of rice to phosphorus (P) fertilization and low phytoavailability of soil P have been reported in sandy rainfed fields in northeast Thailand. In order to evaluate the effects of mild soil drying on the uptake of P by rainfed lowland rice, we carried out nutrient omission trials for nitrogen (N) and P at Ubon Ratchathani Rice Research Center under rainfed and flooded conditions. The surface soil was classified as sandy loam. To avoid severe soil drying and drought stress in the rainfed field, soil water potential at a depth of 20 cm was maintained at the field capacity (> −20 kPa) by flush irrigation. The effects of flooding and drying on the soil properties were also evaluated in the laboratory using soils with diverse textures in and around the center. In the field experiments, the above-ground biomass of rice plants (RD6) did not respond significantly to P fertilization in the rainfed field, although it responded positively to N fertilization. Root length in the surface 10 cm under the rainfed condition was significantly smaller than that under the flooded condition due partly to the increased soil hardness upon drying, but this could not quantitatively explain the large discrepancy of P uptake observed between the rainfed and flooded conditions. Under the rainfed condition, the P uptake did not increase significantly, even when the concentration of soil Bray P was tripled by transferring the surface soil from the flooded to the rainfed field. From the laboratory experiments, it was further suggested that soil P was supplied mainly by diffusion and that the effective diffusion coefficient for P can become less than one-tenth of the value in the flooded field when the sandy soil with clay at around 10% dried to −100 kPa. Our results suggest that the uptake of P by the rainfed lowland rice grown in sandy soil can be limited physically by mild soil drying that reduces the supply of P to roots by diffusion rather than the chemical extractability of soil P.
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