With the growing population, the demand for food products has increased. In order to increase food production amid the scalable agricultural land available, the need for improving the efficiency of the crops and making them high yielding is a tactic that has been adopted by mankind since a long time. This is how fertilizer for plants
has become a major trend in the agricultural sector. In the current era, especially since the pandemic situation, the fertilizer industry
has been affected by the impact on labor and logistics and also with the rising demand for agricultural commodities. But experts say that the fertilizer industry is facing only a temporary setback and that the industry is here to stay for quite some time. This statement is supported by a report by the International Fertilizer Association that states that the industrial demand growth is expected to be at 1.8 per cent per year up to 2024.
The fertilizers are also being used as in to refill the lost nutrients after the process of harvesting. They are also used to increase biomass in the nutrient deficient soils. Among the various nutrients that are needed for different crops, there is a growing imbalance in the demand/supply of Nitrogen. The Nitrogen supply would expand by an average of 1.6 per cent per year up to 2024 whereas the demand would increase only by 1 per cent every year in the same period of time.
“The sustainable use of nitrogen offers a triple win – for the economy, for human health, and for the environment,” Susan Gardner, Director of United Nations Environment Programme Ecosystems Division.
This imbalance is also expected among the urea supply/demand. There is a growing trend of product diversification with an interest in N+S (Nitrogen + Sulphur), SNF (sulphonated naphthalene formaldehyde), and CRF (Controlled release fertilizers) products.
“Use of inorganic fertilizers without soil and leaf test is wastage of money and results in degradation of soil and fruit quality”, says Mushtaq Ahmad, senior soil scientist of SKUAST Kashmir.
The challenges and problems that are to be solved by the Fertilizer industry are many. Some of the most prominent ones are “Nitrogen pollution”, “scarcity of water sources”.
Demand for water sources
"Our results highlight the critical importance of groundwater for Indian agriculture and rural livelihoods, and we were able to show that simply providing canal irrigation as a substitute irrigation source will likely not be enough to maintain current production levels in the face of groundwater depletion," said study lead author Meha Jain, of the University of Michigan, in a statement.
Water is a critical input in order to make the agricultural sector going. Indian agriculture accounts for 80 per cent water use due to fast track ground water depletion. But due to poor water management, India is now facing a scarcity of water resources. India has only 4 per cent of the world’s fresh water resources despite having a population of over 1.3 billion. The crisis has especially worsened in the recent years owing to the climate change.
The government has taken steps such as launching multiple schemes and also forming an entire ministry Jal Shakti to deal with this problem. Steps such as rainwater harvesting, water conservation and efficient agricultural irrigation are expected. Switching to less water intensive crops can be seen as an alternative solution as well.
Nitrogen pollution affecting the environment
Nutrient run – off from farmlands with the fertilizers has affected the land ecosystems in a major way. But, the freshwater and marine habitats have been affected the hardest. This has also created a threat to human health. Agricultural ammonia emissions when combined with pollution from vehicles create dangerous particulates in the air and increase the risk of respiratory diseases.
“Simple actions include putting a lid on the manure tank, which stops ammonia being lost to air. If you can smell your manure, it means you are wasting it to the atmosphere,” says Mark Sutton, an Environmental Physicist.
In order to manage the nitrogen pollution, many companies along with governments and international organizations including the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) have partnered with scientists to better understand the risks regarding the human usage of Nitrogen and also create awareness among the people. The usage of Nitrogen fixing plants is seen as a probable solution as they convert N2 into ammonia which the plant can use to make protein, amino acids and DNA. United Nations Environment Programme has also established the global “Halve Nitrogen Waste” campaign in order to spread the positives that can happen such as better climate, nature, human health when the usage of Nitrogen is reduced. Also, according to an estimate based on half the value of global synthetic fertilizer sales, $100 billion can be saved.
There is an increase in consumer awareness pertaining to harmful effects of synthetic & chemical fertilizers and the growing demand for chemical-free food products.
There is an increase in consumer awareness pertaining to harmful effects of synthetic & chemical fertilizers and the growing demand for chemical-free food products. Usage of fertilizers for the commercial horticulture sector has also been advised to be reduced by the scientists. Self – styled experts notes that usage of fertilizers not only demands excessive usage of money but also degrades the quality of soil. In Kashmir, thousands of tonnes of fertilizers are being used by the orchardists in order to reap more profit and the soil scientist Mushtaq Ahmad says that usage of fertilizers without researching the ingredients in the soil and doing soil and leaf test is a waste. Examples such as Nazir ahmed thoker’s success story on not using fertilizers but still producing quality fruits are to be considered as an inspiration and such practices are to be promoted.
The global soil treatment market is estimated to grow at a CAGR of 6.2 per cent up to 2025. Soil treatment is required as in to treat the contaminated soil and also to improve the soil fertility as well. This treatment is required to reduce the pollution that is a result of mistreatment of soil and in order to keep the hopes for future agriculture practices alive.
As we can judge by now, the need of the hour is Vermicompost and organic fertilizers. The adverse effects of synthetic fertilizer have made the people to turn towards organic fertilizers. This has increased the implementations of environmental policies in order to minimize the usage of non – biodegradable goods. This has led the farmers to turn towards organic fertilizers. Organic fertilizers such as manure, peat, decaying animals (these are received mainly from the slaughter houses), compost manure, humic acid, amino acids, seaweed extracts, decomposing crop residue also termed as green manure and treated sewage sludge. Although the use of bio - solids has been reduced citing the reason that it has toxic metal accumulation, pharmaceuticals, hormones and other factors. This has boosted the global Organic Fertilizer market size as it is expected to reach $13.8 billion by 2026 at a CAGR of 10.4 per cent.
In August 2020, a leading company in the fertilizer industry introduced a micro-nutrient fertilizer, targeting to improve maize yields in Western Kenya. The product is a blended product with Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Ammoniacal Nitrogen, Sulphur, and Zinc enabling the maize crop to grow faster and produce higher yields. Innovations like this are expected to take the market on a path of growth.