Overutilization of Fertilizers & Worsening Nutrient Imbalance

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    • The recent easing of global prices has boosted fertilizer availability and cut the subsidy bill.

    More about the news

    • The easing of global fertiliser prices has enabled the following:
      • Improvement of overall availability significantly: 
        • No major shortage of any fertilizer has been reported during the ongoing rabi cropping season.
        • Augmented fertiliser availability, coupled with good soil moisture conditions, has helped boost area sown under rabi crops, especially wheat, mustard, maize and masur (red lentil).
      • World prices cooling off should translate into a reduction in the Centre’s fertiliser subsidy outgo
    • Worsening of nutrition imbalances:
      • The current fiscal has witnessed a worsening of nutrition imbalances. Consumption of both urea and DAP has shot up, with their sales for the year ending March 2023 likely to top 350 lt and 120 lt respectively. 
      • Consumption pattern: Instead of balanced use of plant nutrients based on soil testing and specific crop requirement, Indian farmers are effectively applying just urea and DAP — both high-analysis fertilisers containing 46 per cent N and P respectively.

    Government’s initiatives for promoting balanced use of Urea

    • Nutrient-based subsidy (NBS) regime:
      • Government introduced a nutrient-based subsidy (NBS) regime in fertilisers with effect from April 2010, a key objective was to discourage farmers from applying too much urea, DAP and MOP. 
        • Urea has 46% nitrogen (N), while DAP contains 46% phosphorus (P) plus 18% N and MOP has 60% potassium (K).
    • Neem-coated Urea:
      • Government made the coating of urea with neem oil compulsory from 2015-16.
      • It was done to check illegal diversion of the heavily-subsidised fertiliser for non-agricultural uses, including by plywood, dye, cattle feed and synthetic milk makers. 
      • Significance:
        • Neem oil supposedly also acted as a mild nitrification inhibitor, allowing a more gradual release of nitrogen. 
        • Increased nitrogen use efficiency would, in turn, bring down the number of urea bags required per acre.
    • The Soil Health Card Scheme: Soil health card provides information to farmers on nutrient status of their soil along with recommendations on appropriate dosage of nutrients to be applied for improving soil health and its fertility.
      • Objectives:
        • To issue soil health cards every two years to all farmers, so as to provide a basis to address nutrient deficiencies in fertilization practices.
    • ‘One Nation, One Fertilizer’ scheme:
      • Under the scheme, all fertiliser companies, State Trading Entities (STEs) and Fertiliser Marketing Entities (FMEs) will be required to use a single “Bharat” brand for fertilisers and logo under the PMBJP.
        • The new “Bharat” brand name and PMBJP logo will cover two-thirds of the front of the fertiliser packet.

    Reasons behind this imbalance

    • Underpricing of other fertilizers:
      • Government has fixed maximum retail prices of Urea & DAP. It has informally-fixed MRPs for NPKS complexes and muriate of potash (MOP). 
      • Prices of other fertilizers compared to Urea & DAP are relatively higher. So farmers have little incentive to buy other fertilizers.
      • The fact that DAP does not contain K, S or other macro and micro nutrients wouldn’t matter to a majority of farmers. 
      • For them, choice of fertilisers is primarily a function of prices
    • Subsidisation & political motives:
      • Underpricing of urea (a historical phenomenon) and DAP (recent) is a product of subsidy-induced market distortions. 
      • High government subsidies are behind the low pricing, and high sales, of these two fertilisers.
      • The compulsions of electoral politics have clearly trumped concerns over soil nutrient imbalances.
    • Supply-side constraints:
      • India is facing a tight supply position in fertilisers, especially of phosphatic and potassic nutrients.
      • The challenges include securing supply from new sources, costlier raw material, and logistics.
      • The pandemic has impacted fertilizer production, import and transportation across the world.

    Suggestions & way ahead

    • Suggestions:
      • To restrict DAP use to rice and wheat. 
        • All other crops can meet their P requirement through SSP and complexes. 
      • To raise SSP’s acceptance by permitting sale only in granular, not powdered, form. 
        • SSP powder is prone to adulteration with gypsum or clay. 
        • Farmers can be assured of quality through granules, which will also promote slower release of P without drift during application.
    • The ultimate aim should be to cap urea, DAP and MOP consumption. India, the expert points out, cannot sustain imports leading to their increasing application. Farmers must, instead, be nudged to use more of low-analysis complex fertilisers and SSP.

    Source: TH