For Tanzanian soils dominant in hydrous oxides of iron and amorphous ferri-alumino silicate, a 48-hour (hr) mixing period with the sulphate (SO4) solution was adequate for a near-equilibrium condition. Although differing in their SO4 sorption capacity, all the soils sorbed SO4 at or beyond 1µg ml−1 sulphur (S) concentration in the supernatant. Hydroxyl (OH) ions were displaced during SO4 sorption as indicated by a significant positive correlation between the amount of sorbed SO4 and the difference in pH values determined in 0.1N K2 SO4 and 0.1N KCl, i.e. the dpH values. In a greenhouse experiment, alfalfa was grown on eight soils at six adjusted S concentrations. Sulphur deficiency symptoms appeared in the control pots of those soils which were low in native sorbed SO4, SO4 sorption capacity and initial soil solution S concentration. Sulphur fertilization increased dry matter (DM) yield as well as response to applied S. The external S concentration, i.e. adjusted S concentration required for 95% of the maximum DM yield, ranged from 0.8 to 8.2µg S ml−1 with values less than 2.0 on most of the soils. The external S concentration decreased hyperbolically as the SO4 sorption capacity of the soils increased. The total amount of fertilizer S required to obtain the external S concentration in solution, and at the same time satisfy the SO4 sorption capacity of the soil at the external S concentration (determined from the sorption isotherm) was defined as the external S requirement for the specified yield level of alfalfa. The external S requirement for 95% of the maximum yield of alfalfa varied from soil to soil due to differences in their capacity and intensity for S nutrition.