Plant nutrition and soil fertility

By Fertilizers Europe

Regulation (EU) 2019/1009 groups under the term "fertilising product" a number of alternatives for plant nutrition and soil fertility. These are complementary products that contribute to the production of abundant, high-quality crops. At the same time, they help the European Union in its transition towards more sustainable agriculture. This informative brochure discusses the advantages of using a holistic approach combining different fertilising products in order to optimise agricultural yields and crop quality and minimise environmental impact.

Factors in crop growth

For crops to grow, they need sunlight, carbon dioxide, water and a balanced supply of primary (nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium) and secondary nutrients and micronutrients.

Plants absorb water and these nutrients mainly from the soil through their root system.

Harvesting

With harvesting, the nutrients absorbed by the plant are extracted from the soil and, if not replenished, the productivity of the soil is affected. This leads to a significant long-term decrease in agricultural yields.

Balanced nutrition

Crop residues in soils biodegrade and replenish part of the nutrients. However, soils only manage to replenish, on average, half of the nutrients needed for a new crop. Additional inputs are therefore essential.

The role of products for plant nutrition and soil fertility

In nutrients: nitrogen consumption is 1,010 MT, 2% lower than in 2018; phosphoric anhydride consumption is up 13% from the previous year to 480 MT; potassium oxide, on the other hand, is down 6% to 388 MT.

Organic and organo-mineral fertilisers

  • The contain predictable amounts of specific nutrients.
  • They provide nutrients that are not always in a form that can be immediately absorbed by plants, but release nutrients continuously throughout the growth cycle.
  • They stimulate microbial activity and improve soil structure through organic carbon.
  • They increase the organic matter in the soil, which in turn improves its carbon sequestration capacity.

Mineral fertilisers

  • They provide nutrients to crops, complementing those present in the soil for optimal development.
  • They provide nutrients for plants.
  • They contain nutrients in a certain quantity with a predictable availability.
  • They maximise nutrient absorption by plants and ensure crop quality and productivity and minimise nutrient losses.

Inhibitors

  • These increase nitrogen use efficiency.
  • They help to reduce negative environmental impacts caused by nitrate leaching, ammonia volatilisation and greenhouse gas emissions. This is achieved by adding a number of compounds to nitrogen fertilisers.
  • They allow greater flexibility for farmers, as the number of fertiliser applications can be reduced.

Liming material

  • These products catalyse the release of nutrients into the soil.
  • They correct soil pH by reducing its acidity.
  • They protect the environment by preventing leaching of water from acidic soils.

Organic soil improvers

  • These products increase the organic matter content in the soil to enhance soil fertility.
  • They improve the physical structure of the soil.
  • They promote water retention in soils.
  • They feed worms and microorganisms, which in turn increase soil fertility.

Plant biostimulants

  • They increase nutrient efficiency and contribute to higher quality crops.
  • They improve tolerance to adverse weather conditions, such as drought, extreme heat and unstable conditions caused by climate change.
  • They supply provide additional beneficial microorganisms that help convert nutrients into forms that can be absorbed by plant.
  • They stimulate root production through substances that help plants absorb nutrients and, at the same time, promote early root development. This improves the interaction of plants with the soil as well as with worms and microorganisms.

How can the necessary nutrients be replenished?

First, use on-farm sources of nutrients* such as manure and compost. These organic sources are rich in both organic matter and nutrients. These are essential elements for fertile soils. However, on-farm sources of nutrients rarely meet the needs of crops. They do not contain a balanced supply of the nutrients necessary for crop growth. Moreover, they are nutrients that are not directly absorbed by crops.

Apply a combination of fertilisers (mineral, processed organic** and organo-mineral) and plant biostimulants to ensure balanced nutrition.

* Farm-specific sources include, for example, raw manure and crop residues
** Processed organic fertilisers contain nutrients in concentrated amounts and predictable proportions

Soil fertility

Soil fertility depends on three essential factors: its physical structure, its chemical composition and its biological diversity. Together they ensure the maintenance of fertile and healthy agricultural soils.

Biological diversity

Biologically diverse soils are soils that are well structured and contain nutrients that can be absorbed by plants. A fertile soil is one that has a good structure, contains organic matter for the development of biodiversity and has a balanced pH level.

Chemical composition

Soil acidity (pH) has a direct impact on the ability of plants to extract and absorb nutrients. Acidic soils affect their own biological diversity, compromising their physical structure and nutrient absorption capability.

Physical structure

Physical structure is closely related to the presence of organic matter in the soil, as well as to the existence of biodiversity. Roots, insects, worms and other life forms are responsible for loosening the soil, thus improving its structure and fertility.

Towards more circular food systems

The plant nutrition sector plays a key role in the circular economy. Fertilisers (both mineral and organic) contribute to this in a significant way: they allow waste to be recycled and put to new use and promote sustainable development.

Mineral fertiliser manufacturers

recycle a wide range of by-products from different industrial production processes, turning them into valuable plant nutrients. They use surplus energy and raw materials from other production processes, or from fertiliser factories or other compatible industrial processes. The mineral fertiliser industry is also intensifying its efforts to completely close the "cycle" through increased recycling and reuse. One such example would be through the recycling of phosphate.

Organic fertilisers

are made by combining various organic raw materials, including manure and various by-products of plant or animal origin recycled by companies belonging to other industries, rather than discarding them.

Plant biostimulants

often recover by-products from other value chains and are used as raw material.

Know more

Fertilizers Europe, EBIC and ECOFI have joined forces to promote comprehensive plant nutrition and soil fertility management. The combined use of mineral fertilisers, organic fertilisers and plant biostimulants, integrating the plant nutrition approach will ultimately be beneficial for the agricultural sector and for society at large. In terms of growth and sustainability, it exceeds the sum of its parts.

Fertilizers Europe represents most of the nitrogen fertiliser producers in Europe and is considered the industry's source of information on mineral fertilisers. The association engages with a wide range of institutions, policy makers, the general public and other concerned parties seeking information on fertilisation technologies and on issues related to current agricultural, environmental and economic challenges.
www.fertilizerseurope.com

At EBIC (the European Biostimulants Industry Council), they advocate the use of plant biostimulants to contribute to a more sustainable and resilient agriculture. In doing so, they promote the growth and development of the biostimulant industry in Europe.
www.biostimulants.eu

ECOFI (the European Organic Fertiliser Industry Consortium) is the group of European producers of organic fertilisers, organo-mineral fertilisers and soil improvers. In ECOFI, they promote the participation of the organic fertiliser sector in the new economic model emerging in Europe, based on in-depth knowledge, environmental sustainability and higher levels of employment.
www.ecofi.info

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