Farming is a tough business. Mineral fertilizers help make farming financially viable. No wonder 95% of European farmers use mineral fertilizers to boost their financial independence.
In addition to providing us with essential food, feed and energy crops, agriculture has to be economically viable to be sustainable over the long term. Europe's farmers need to make a sufficient return on what they produce to reward their efforts and enable them to invest in their operations. Fertilizers are often one of a farmer's major costs, so their efficiency plays a vital role in ensuring a productive and profitable agricultural sector. On average, every euro invested in mineral fertilizers provides the farmer with a five-fold return.
Plants don't grow magically. They need a healthy diet of sunlight, oxygen, carbondioxide, water and nutrients. Fertilizers give plants a hand by providing the right mix of the major nutrients nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium and important secondary elements.
Effective fertilization closely matches the nutrients available in the soil to the different requirements of a crop over its growing cycle. This balanced nutrition enables the crop to optimise its use of the nutrients and ensures strong, healthy and productive crop growth.
Crops need sunlight, air, water and essential nutrients to grow. These are absorbed by the individual plant, either directly through its leaves or from the surrounding soil through its roots. When the crop is harvested, the nutrients the plant has absorbed are harvested with it.
Unless these nutrients are replenished, the soil will lose its productive capacity. Natural processes that break down organic matter and crop residues provide about half the soil's requirement, but the balance needs to be provided by fertilizers.
Mineral fertilizers enable farmers to offer crops a predicable supply of the three primary nutrients nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium (N, P, K) as well as the secondary elements calcium, magnesium and sulphur, and other micro-nutrients. The fertilizer provides these in a form that can be readily assimilated by the plant.
In the past 50 years, the world's population has doubled. However the amount of available farmland is limited. Fertilizers have helped make the best use of the farmland we have by providing crops with additional nutrients. Today, 48% of the global population are fed thanks to them.
It is widely accepted that global food production needs to increase significantly to keep pace with projected food needs. And, with increasing environmental pressure on bringing more land into agricultural production, the only way this growth can realistically be met is through improved agricultural productivity. As part of the developed world, and benefiting from exceptional natural conditions, Europe has the moral obligation to do all it can to help meet global food needs. It has the climate and the farmland to be more than self-sufficient in food production, yet it is a net food importer. An area outside Europe the size of
Germany is currently devoted to supplying European markets, land that could support local food needs. European agricultural policy should encourage its farmers to increase their productivity while maintaining the environmental integrity of the land they farm. This "sustainable intensification" of farming requires more widespread adoption of best farm practice based on new crop science, targeted crop nutrition and modern cropping techniques. Over the past 40 years, mineral fertilizers have significantly increased crop yields around the world.
Without them, it is calculated that agriculture today would require an additional 1,100 million hectares of virgin land. Efficient use of modern fertilizer technology can both ensure that a growing world population has enough to eat and that the environmental impact of farming on our planet is limited.