We presented our newest publications designed with the intention of creating an overall review of the important aspects of the European fertilizer industry.
These two sister publications "Infinite Product Stewardship" and "Infinite Nutrient Stewardship" are intended to provide a general guide to fertilizer production, distribution, and use in meeting the demands of "sustainable agriculture".
The brochures describe the European fertilizer industry's vision of Infinite fertilizers and the importance of the interaction between all those involved in food production chains in increasing the efficiency of agriculture and in reducing its environmental footprint.
Both of these publications are available for download by clicking on the cover images below.
At the forefront of change
Our vision of infinite fertilizers is based on our belief that the European fertilizer industry has the responsibility not only to ensure the safe and efficient production of our products but also to influence how they are used to produce a varied range of healthy, high quality food for European consumers. This requires us to consider the entire food production cycle and increasingly close cooperation with all the players involved in it.
Product Stewardship and fertilizer production
Fertilizer production operates in large numbers. The industry transforms millions of tons of air and rock into high quality food for plants and thereby life on this planet. The fundamental process is mixing the nitrogen in the air with the hydrogen in natural gas. This so-called ammonia synthesis, while invented 100 years ago, is a process that takes place under high temperature and high pressure and still pushes chemistry to the extreme.
Marketing & distribution
While the basic process of fertilizer production has stayed the same, the equipment, the control systems and the skill needed has changed dramatically. These changes have allowed European fertilizer producers to achieve the worlds’ highest energy efficiency in the production and also the lowest environmental footprint. This improvement in the production process never stops. The scale of production and the production process itself makes it necessary for the industry to focus on achieving a safe working environment with stringent rules on safety with a thorough regard of our neighbouring communities.
In order to make sure, European fertilizer producers live up to this challenge, Fertilizers Europe has developed a management system, to ensure that advanced production controls are consolidated and maintained. We call this Product Stewardship. It is compulsory for members of Fertilizers Europe and audited by an independent auditor. At the same time it sets the highest industry standards globally for this type of program.
Our Product Stewardship program thus encompasses the industry aspirations for efficient, safe and environmental production.
The production part of the cycle, however, starts with our raw materials. Apart from air and natural gas, the key raw materials are phosphate rock and potash rock. While natural gas and phosphate and potash rock are all relatively abundant globally, they can only be found to a very limited extent in Europe.
The industry is therefore very dependent on imports from outside Europe. This makes it a challenge to be very efficient in the use of our raw materials.
At the same time it is important to carefully select the highest quality to attain the highest quality end product. This is especially relevant for phosphate and potash rock.
Outside the plant gate, the scale of production makes it an industry responsibility to take transportation and distribution of fertilizers into account. We therefore work closely with the fertilizer supply chain to ensure the efficient and secure distribution and storage of our products on their way to Europe’s farmers.
Nutrient Stewardship and fertilizer application
Food production starts with the crop and fertilizers play a vital role in enabling farmers to replace the nutrients lost from the soil after crops are harvested.
Balanced fertilization programmes that offer a predictable supply of essential and other nutrients to meet changing crop requirements over their growth cycle ensure the most productive growth.
The main thrust of the industry’s activities with farming communities across Europe has been to encourage the best agricultural practice by increasing farmers’ knowledge of the correct selection and use of our products and the adoption of the latest application technology.
Our basic rule of thumb to optimise yields and minimize environmental impact is the application of the right product, at the right place, at the right rate, at the right time.
We have focused on developing practical guidelines for best practice in on-farm nutrient management for several years and have built up a comprehensive range of publications that address the issues of productivity, energy efficiency and the management of emissions.
New technology, such as GPS-based soil and biomass mapping, can now precisely define nutrient demand at field level. This enables more targeted fertilizer application with small coefficients of variation, increasing nutrient-use efficiency and limiting the risk of losses.
Other agricultural techniques such as crop rotation, minimum tillage and cover crops also help to maintain the structure and nutritional quality of the soil.
Most recently, our DAN fertilizers campaign, which explains the environmental impact of different types of nitrogen fertilizer, has been well received by farmers in 16 countries across Europe. The initiative has now been expanded to highlight the issues of air quality and productivity. More information on this can be found on the DAN website: www.danfertilizers.com.
This campaign is part of the response to pressure for a reduction of direct atmospheric emissions from agriculture, such as ammonia, methane and nitrous oxide. The vast majority of these results from livestock production or organic sources but the application of certain types of fertilizer also has an impact. The main thrust of our current emission mitigation efforts is on the promotion of nutrient-use efficiency.
Life-cycle analysis of emissions from fertilizer use is an important input into assessing the carbon footprint of agriculture. Farmers can now make use of our recently launched fertilizer carbon footprint calculator in conjunction with tools such as the Sustainable Food Laboratory’s Cool Farm Tool to check the overall impact of their operations.
It is widely accepted that global food production needs to increase significantly to keep pace with projected food needs. The FAO calculates an increase in agricultural production of some 70% above current levels by 2050. Environmental pressure against further extension of the existing agricultural area means that this increase primarily needs to be provided through better productivity. Measures to reduce waste between farm and market can also help.
Europe is lucky in that it has the resources, climate and technology to produce more than enough food for its own needs. Our agricultural policy should incentivise our farmers to increase their production in a sustainable way to reduce our current dependency on food imports. The 30 million hectares of farmland outside Europe currently devoted to meeting our food needs could be more effectively used for local food production.
The "sustainable intensification" of European farming is readily achievable with more widespread adoption of best agricultural practice, use of modern crop science, precise crop nutrition and the latest cultivation and soil management techniques.
The reduction of waste and the recycling of nutrients derived from non-renewable resources are becoming increasingly important.
To date, the primary focus has been on on-farm recycling measures such as crop waste composting, anaerobic digestion of manure and the more efficient use of organic material in the overall fertilization strategy.
On an industrial scale, schemes to capture and concentrate nutrients, such as the incineration of manure with the resulting ash being recycled as a fertiliser, have been successful in several regions. Research continues into viable nutrient recycling options.
Coming full circle with product development
European fertilizer producers continuously need to innovate and develop their products in order to take into account the experience and possibilities open along the food chain. In close cooperation with the entire food chain, producers continue to be focused on new product types and application technology to allow more efficient crop nutrition and a correspondingly lower environmental impact.
Products are increasingly being targeted at specific crops, with new technologies offering a variety of release profiles and at the same time taking account of limited resources like water.