Phosphorus (P) is essential for life and for efficient crop production, but global P use with limited recycling is inefficient in several sectors, including agronomy. Unfortunately, plant physiologists, agronomists, farmers and end users employ different measures for P use efficiency (PUE), which often masks their values at different scales. The term P use effectiveness, which also considers energetic and sustainability measures in addition to P balances, is also a valuable concept. Major physiological and genetic factors for plant P uptake and utilization have been identified, but there has been limited success in genetically improving PUE of modern crop cultivars. In maize, studies on root architectural and morphological traits appear promising. Rhizosphere processes assist in mobilizing and capturing sparingly soluble phosphate from rock phosphate. Combinations of phosphate-solubilizing microorganisms with ammonium-based nitrogen fertilizer, as well as strategies of fertilizer placement near the roots of target crops, can moderately enhance PUE. The desired concentration of P in the products differs, depending on the final use of the crop products as feed, food or for energy conversion, which should be considered during crop production.