Part 1: Balanced nutrient application
Aside from weather, climate, soil quality, irrigation, and the amount of fertilizers applied to crops, the balance of the three types of fertilizers—nitrogen, phosphate, and potash—significantly influences crop yields. Farmers, unfortunately, don’t always have the knowledge to apply the scientifically recommended amount of fertilizers. In some cases, they’re unable to do so for economic reasons.
But as the world’s arable land is limited, while global population and developing economies continue to grow, higher crop prices will encourage farmers to apply the adequate amount of fertilizer in the future. This means some fertilizer types will perform better than others.
The more you take, the more you grow
Based on Agrium Inc. (AGU)’s October 2012 presentation, fertilizer application rate and corn yield are showing a strong positive relationship. The United States (which stands on the far left of the chart with near 300 kilograms of fertilizers per hectare) produced 9.7 tonnes of corn per hectare. As application of potash, phosphate, and nitrogen fall towards the right side of the chart, so does the yield. Since fertilizers make plants stronger and aid growth, this was expected. As the world’s arable land is limited, fertilizer use should continue to increase.
Nitrogen: A growth hormone
Nitrogen-based fertilizers (the most used type) are widely known by farmers to increase yield. Countries with higher yields on the chart have increased their use of nitrogen-based fertilizers. Take Brazil and China, for example. The two countries apply a similar amount of fertilizer to their soil. But the yield differential is quite significant, with China producing 5.6 tonnes of corn per hectare, while Brazil produces only 3.6.
Potash and phosphate: A balanced diet
But just as a balanced diet drives a healthy lifestyle, we can’t forget potash and phosphate. Although Brazil and India both use similar amounts of nitrogen, they apply different amounts of potash and phosphate. The result is a higher yield of 3.6 tonnes per hectare of corn for Brazil, with just 2.4 for India.
Plus, there appears to be a limit to how much nitrogenous fertilizer farmers can use on their soil: ~160 kilograms per hectare based on countries such as the United Staes, European Union countries, and China. Above that level, farmers tend to increase more use of potash and phosphate to boost yield.
So which fertilizer will see the largest potential growth in the future? Continue to Part 2 to find out.