This “law” or “principle” of the minimum was formulated by Carl Sprengel, a German botanist, as early as 1828.  It became more well know when German biochemist and professor Justus von Liebig publicized and studied it more widely starting around 1840.  Liebig’s work became the foundation for laboratory oriented teaching as its known today and earned him consideration as the “Father of the fertilizer industry”.  Simply put, Liebig’s Law of The Minimum summarizes that plant growth and health is not controlled by the total amount of nutrients available in the soil… But instead plant growth and health is control by the scarcest of the nutrients available in the soil.  Liebig’s Law many times is summarized with the icon of a leaking bucket.  The factor of which is the weakest or slowest on the bucket is where the bucket leaks.  It is also described using a chain example- the weakest link in the chain is where the chain will break.


Justus von Liebig’s Law of the Minimum states that yield is proportional to the amount of the most limiting nutrient, whichever nutrient it may be.

crop yields are proportional to the most limiting nutrient

Carl Sprengel, Justus von Liebig

Liebig’s law of the minimum The concept first stated by J. vonLiebig in 1840, that the rate of growth of a plant, the size to which it grows, and its overall health depend on the amount of the scarcest of its essential nutrients that is available to it.