The use of fertilizers is controversial among consumers and some farmers. And for good reason: crop yields have stagnated for several years, soils are depleted, the soil and water are polluted with excess inputs, and food is losing nutrient content. Can we therefore blame the fertilizers? Answering yes or no to this question would lack objectivity in relation to all the existing issues around fertilizers. Find out what these challenges are, and their origins!
WHY USE FERTILIZERS?
The question may seem simple at first, but the answers are multiple. Farmers use fertilizers to: improve the quantity of yield from agricultural production, increase the quality of plants by providing them with nutrients, or to increase soil fertility.
How do fertilizers affect production?
The desire to use fertilizers is explained by the fact that the fertilizer units included in the granules are designed to provide nutrients to plants which logically is supposed to: increase the quality of plants, increase crop yields and fertility in soils. We can see, however, that theoretical logic does not apply concretely in many productions. Before understanding how fertilizers affect production, you need to identify the different types of fertilizers and their nutrients.
WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF FERTILIZERS?
There are two types of fertilizers: simple or compound. Simple fertilizers provide only one of the three essential nutrients: nitrogen, phosphorus or potassium. Compound fertilizers provide two or three of these nutrients simultaneously.
The roles of the three nutrients are:
- Nitrogen: improving the quality and quantity of production by being transformed into proteins by plants
- Phosphorus: promote the root development of the plant to allow it to absorb nutrients
- Potassium: allow the cellular development of plants
What are the current challenges?
The main agricultural issues today are diverse, and conventional farming practices are being challenged, including the use of chemical fertilizers. Farmers wonder about the challenges it raises, while questioning the origin of the following issues:
- Stagnation or decline in yields
- Depletion of soil in organic matter
- Pollution of the land, water, and ecosystems
- Decrease in food nutritional values
But then, does the responsibility lie with the use of fertilizers? The nutritional benefits of phosphorus, potash and nitrogen for plants are well established. However, the use of fertilizers through inappropriate agricultural practices can completely upset the organic balance of the soil, ecosystems and the nutrient content of food.
Appropriate or inappropriate agricultural practices?
To find out, it’s very simple: just look at the level of biological activity in crops. The following elements indicate that the agricultural practices employed, in particular via the method of fertilizing, give rise to problems relating to the current challenges mentioned above:
- Absence or almost absence of earthworms in the soil
- Yellowish or brownish leaves and stems
- Presence of stones on the soil surface
These three elements indicate a lack of biological activity in the soil. This lack of biological activity gives rise to current challenges.
STAGNATION OR LOWER YIELDS
The lack of biological activity in the soil does not allow the plant to benefit from all the elements naturally present in the soil which it needs to develop: trace elements, macro-elements, minerals, natural nitrogen, etc. This results in stagnation or lower yields.
DEPLETION OF THE SOIL IN ORGANIC MATTER
The biological activity of soils allows organic matter to decompose, in addition to promoting the proper development of microorganisms in the soil. Soil poor in biological activity no longer has “fuel” to be fertile. The decomposition of organic matter is very slow, and the whole process allowing the plant to feed is slowed down.
LAND, WATER, AND ECOSYSTEM POLLUTION
Pollution of soil and groundwater through leaching is due to the lack of biological activity in the soil. If the earth does not contain elements that activate to retain and absorb the inputs, then residues will spread in the ecosystem without being transformed naturally.
DECREASE IN FOOD NUTRITION VALUES
The decrease in nutrients in food is also due to the lack of biological activity in the soil. In fact, the more fertile the soil, the more it is able to provide a high amount of nutrients to the plant, which makes food rich in nutrients.
Fertilizers are therefore not at the origin of the new agricultural challenges. A for the lack of biological activity in the soil, yes! This is due to inappropriate agricultural practices, in particular via intensive use of chemical fertilizer solutions. Eco-alternative fertilization respecting sustainable agricultural practices, develops and revitalizes the organic activity of the soil.