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August 29, 2019 | Food & Beverages
A plant nutrient is a chemical element that is essential for plant growth and reproduction. Seventeen elements are identified and considered as essential for plants to complete their life cycle. Carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen are derived from air or water and the remaining 14 are obtained from soil or nutrient solutions. The advent of fertilizers is a post-1800 development and the discovery of the aforementioned nutrients as essential elements for the plant was announced over a period of time as mentioned in the diagram below.
The 1960’s green revolution brought a dramatic change in the use of synthetic fertilizers and high-yielding varieties of cereals, aided in an increase in the output of cereals across the majority of the countries to feed the starving population of the world. The global fertilizer consumption increased by 8-10 million metric tonnes from 2010 to 2016 in each category (i.e., N, P, and K nutrients).
Slow growth in demand for traditional nutrients and declined lucrativeness in the business of supplying the traditional fertilizer products has impelled the fertilizer manufacturers to focus on the value-added or innovative fertilizer products. Fertilizer companies have significantly invested in R&D over a period of time to develop the innovative fertilizer nutrient products to increase the fertilizer use efficiency along with the factors including ease of use and storage traits. In recent years, specialty fertilizers have gained higher importance in agriculture farming as farmer’s focus shifted towards fertilizer use efficiency factor (especially in developed nations).
"Improvements over Traditional Fertilizers"
Increasing awareness about farm resource management, affordability of farm inputs, and focus on agricultural profitability factors have helped in the rapid expansion of specialty fertilizers use and these currently account for nearly 12-15% share in the global market for plant nutrition products. Increase in the knowledge of farmers about the technical knowhow of fertilizer products and their usage has enabled them to seek better options to fulfill the nutrient requirement of a plant with a high level of nutrient use efficiency.
"Specialty Fertilizers: Products are Tailored to Cater to the Specific Needs of End Users"
Specialty fertilizers contain one or more of the essential nutrients and are developed based on growers need for balanced supply of fertilizer nutrients to crop. These fertilizers are distinct from the conventional fertilizers in terms of quantity of use (reduced quantity) and unit value (high). Specialty fertilizers are concentrated fertilizers with high efficiency and are usually tailored products for specific needs of end-users.
Global specialty fertilizers market was valued at around USD 15-16 Billion in 2017 and is projected to grow at a CAGR of 7-8% during the forecast period from 2018 to 2025. Implementation of precision farming concepts and growing area under in-house/ indoor farming factors are projected to drive the demand for specialty fertilizers. New technologies in precision farming such as Variable Rate Application (VAR) of fertilizers, intra-field soil testing and mapping of residual nitrogen, etc. is helping farmers in instant understanding about the status of soil nutrients, based on which suggestions and application of required nutrients to the soil is carried out.
Specialty fertilizers can be further classified as water-soluble fertilizers, controlled-release fertilizers, slow-release fertilizers, stabilized fertilizers (nitrogen inhibitors), micronutrients, biofertilizers and biostimulants, and others.
"Water-soluble Fertilizers: Largest Group in Specialty Fertilizers"
Water-soluble fertilizers account for a major share in the specialty fertilizers market and have gained higher popularity along with the growth in the adoption of modern irrigation practices and cultivation of high-value crops. Water-soluble fertilizers are majorly applied to the fruits and vegetables and turf and ornamentals. Water-soluble fertilizers are also a key component in indoor and greenhouse farming practices. The global water-soluble fertilizers market valued at USD 12-13 billion in 2017 and is projected to grow at a CAGR of 5-6% during the forecast period from 2018 to 2025.
"Controlled-release (Slow-release and Nitrogen Inhibitors) Fertilizers: For Longevity of Release of Nutrients"
Controlled fertilizers have shown better fertilizer use efficiency and productivity under a better nutrient management program. Polymer coatings on fertilizer prills majorly aid in the control of longevity of release of nutrient from the controlled-release fertilizers. The profitability of the crops is a major factor that decides the growth of the consumption of specialty fertilizers as well as controlled-release fertilizers. The global controlled-release fertilizers market (including the slow-release and nitrogen inhibitor fertilizers) was valued around USD 1.6 – 1.7 billion in 2017 and is projected to grow at a CAGR of 6-7% during the forecast period from 2018 to 2025.
"Micronutrients: For Balanced Crop Nutrition"
Micronutrients play an important role in maintaining balanced crop nutrition and the plant requires them in less quantity (compared to macronutrients) but deficiencies of the elements lead to serious losses in the yield as well as crop quality. Unrestrained use of macronutrients to the soil especially phosphorous has resulted in deficiencies of copper, iron, and zinc in some soils. Hence, it is vital to pay attention to the availability of micronutrients in the soil to achieve better productivity and enhanced quality of the crop output. Micronutrient fertilizers are generally supplied as either liquid foliar applications or dry product for application to the soil.
The global micronutrient fertilizer market valued at USD 5 - 6 billion in 2017 and is projected to grow at a CAGR of 5-6% during the forecast period from 2018 to 2025. Water-soluble salts that include chelated forms such as EDTA and DTPA are majorly used micronutrients across the world.
"Biofertilizers and Biostimulants: Biological Plant Nutrition Products"
Biological or biologically derived plant nutrition products have attained a special significance in modern agriculture, and their adoption is expanding rapidly as they are being recognized as an ideal alternative for synthetic chemical fertilizers and are an aid in achieving sustainability in agriculture with the enhancement and restoration of soil biomass. The growing demand for organic food products has led to quick expansion in the area under organic farming. Growth in organic farming has increased the demand for plant nutrition products that meet the criteria of organic farming. Government bodies (including local, regional, and global) across the various regions are emphasizing on restoration and enrichment of the soil biomass level to achieve sustainability in agriculture. This is supporting the growth of biological plant nutrition products.
The global biofertilizers and biostimulants market is growing rapidly due to the increasing acceptance from crop producers. The global biofertilizers market valued at USD 1.0-1.2 billion in 2017 and is projected to grow at a CAGR of 11-12% during the forecast period from 2018 to 2025. On the other hand, the global biostimulants market valued at USD 1.8–2.0 billion in 2017 and is projected to grow at a CAGR of 12-13% during the forecast period. Seaweed extracts have gained more popularity in Europe and the Americas as plant nutrition products and their application rate is expanding vigorously. The increasing demand for organic and residue-free primary agricultural products and processed food will result in a wider distribution of biological plant nutrition products across the world.
Companies such as Agrium Inc, Haifa Chemicals Ltd., Yara International ASA, Israel Chemical Ltd., Coromandel International Ltd., and The Mosaic Company are majorly operating in the supply of specialty fertilizers.
In recent years, R&D activities by leading players majorly focus on the formulations, ease of application, more functionalities, a combination of fertilizer and pesticide products for application, sustainability, and economics to estimate their profitability in the business. For instance, foliar applications of fertilizer nutrients are often more effective per kg of nutrients because a higher percentage of the applied nutrient is generally absorbed by the plant. Due to the cost of mixing and transporting liquids, however, foliar applications are more expensive per kg of nutrients.
Multinational companies are aiming towards establishing a stronghold in the plant nutrition market through acquisitions, distribution agreements, research collaborations, new product launches, and in-licensing of technology and products. Recent mergers & acquisitions witnessed in the agrochemicals industry will pave way for the development of various breakthrough technologies, ensuring a higher level of efficacy and reliable and sustainable plant nutrition solutions.
Increasing research and development initiatives by multinational companies will support the expansion of the global fertilizer use scenario in the upcoming years. Technological advancements may further enhance the efficiency of fertilizer nutrients use in terms of plant absorption, application method, formulations of fertilizers, and others.
Several companies also have launched various innovative products including microencapsulation, controlled-release multi-micronutrient fertilizers, encapsulation of water-soluble materials, and others. to meet the growing demand in the industry.