Often simply called Liebig’s law or the law of the minimum, is a principle developed in agricultural science by Carl Sprengel (1828) and later popularized by Justus von Liebig. It states that growth is dictated not by total resources available, but by the scarcest resource (limiting factor).
This concept was originally applied to plant or crop growth, where it was found that increasing the amount of plentiful nutrients did not increase plant growth. Only by increasing the amount of the limiting nutrient (the one most scarce in relation to “need”) was the growth of a plant or crop improved. This principle can be summed up in the aphorism, “The availability of the most abundant nutrient in the soil is only as good as the availability of the least abundant nutrient in the soil.” Or, to put it more plainly, “A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.”
Dobenecks used the image of a barrel—often called “Liebig’s barrel” to explain Liebig’s law. Just as the capacity of a barrel with staves of unequal length is limited by the shortest stave, so a plant’s growth is limited by the nutrient in shortest supply.