World fertilizer use continues up

World fertilizer use continues up – Current Trends

Francis Urban

World Fertilizer Use Continues Up

World total fertilizer use increased steadily over the past three decades, and is likely to continue to grow, though at decreasing rates. The increase was fivefold between 1960 and 1988, from 31.0 million tons in 1961 to 145.6 million tons in 1988. In 1989, however, the use dropped to 127 million tons. The annual growth rate oof fertilizer use dropped from 11 percent in the early 1960’s to a low of 2 percent in the early 1980’s, as fertilizer prices, prompted by high petroleum prices during the second energy crisis, rose in 1980 and 1981. Since then, fertilizer use has expanded at 3 to 6 percent per year, but then dropped by 12 percent in 1989 (see table).

Table : World fertilizer use, 1970-89 1/

Year Nitrogen Phosphate Potash Total Growth rate

Million metric tons 2/ Percent

1970 31.8 (46) 21.1 (30) 10.4 (24) 69.3 (100) 8.1

1975 44.4 (49) 25.6 (28) 21.4 (23) 91.4 (100) 5.7

1980 60.9 (52) 31.7 (27) 24.3 (21) 116.9 (100 5.0

1985 69.8 (54) 23.2 (26) 25.6 (20) 128.6 (100) 2.0

1986 71.7 (54) 34.7 (26) 26.2 (20) 132.6 (100) 3.1

1987 76.0 (54) 36.9 (26) 27.5 (20) 140.5 (100) 6.0

1988 79.6 (55) 38.0 (26) 28.0 (19) 145.6 (100) 3.6

1989 69.7 (55) 33.2 (26) 24.1 (19) 127.0 (100) 12.8

Note: Parentheses indicate percent share. 1/N, P205, and K20, respectively. 2/Annual rate of growth from the preceding indicated year.

Source: FAO Fertilizer Yearbook. Rome: various issues.

Nitrogen fertilizers represent today about 55 percent of all fertilizer use, followed by phosphate with 26 percent and potash with 19 percent. Three decades earlier, each fertilizer nutrient contributed about one-third to the total. The relatively greater use of nitrogen fertilizers has environmental implications because such fertilizers have been fouond to be a major source of nitrates in groundwater in areas where such pollution has occurred.

Fertilizer application rates in the developed countries seem to have peaked about 1980, except for Australia and New Zealand, where the peak was reached in 1973. Peak application rates varied across these regions. In Western and Central Europe, they reached 240 and 220 kilograms per hectare (kg/ha) of arable land respectively, but in North America and Australia and New Zealand, the maxima were 93 and 38 kg/ha. In East Asia, however, the region that groups principally Japan, the two Koreas, and Taiwan, fertilizer application rates reached 383 kg/ha as early as 1979, dropped to a low of 328 kg/ha in 1982, and then steadily climbed again to 360 kg/ha in 1987. The much higher application rates in

Europe and East Asia, as compared with other regions, reflect primarily the difference between intensive and extensive agricultures.

After peaking, the fertilizer use per unit of arable land remained either constant or declined. It declined in particular in North America, Central Europe, and Australia and New Zealand, but remained nearly constant in Western Europe at close to 240 kg/ha and in East Asia at 360 kg/ha. There are three reasons for leveling off or decline in application rates of fertilizers and other agricultural chemicals. The most important one is a matter of economics, rates reaching the point where it becomes no longer profitable to use additional doses of chemicals. The other two reasons are an increasing concern with environmental impacts of heavy use of agricultural chemicals, and technological progress in the delivery of the chemicals to the plant, allowing more effective application with reduced quantities.

In the developing countries and in the USSR, application rates are still rising, with China showing the fastest increase, even though its rate of application has surpassed that oof Western Europe. In 1988, China’s average application rate reached 262 kg/ha, as against 229 kg/ha in Europe. One exception is SubSaharan Africa, where fertilizer use remains at the low level of about 12 kg/ha, and crop yields remain static and low.

Throughout the world, there exists a strong correlation between fertilizer use and crop yields. Generally, increases or decreases in cereal yields go in tandem with fertilizer application rates, though in some countries increases in cereal yields show a certain lag behind growth in fertilizer application rates.

World fertilizer prices, which rose sharply during the two recent energy crises, one in 1974 and the other in 1980, fell as steeply once the emergency was over, reaching the lowest point in 1984 and 1985. Since then, however, the prices have steadily risen and the Middle Eastern war of this year helped to improve the price prospects, particularly insofar as, for the time being, Iraqi and Kuwaiti fertilizer production facilities are out of commission.

COPYRIGHT 1991 Superintendent Of Documents

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