How to make Urea more efficient as a fertiliser, and why that’s needed

Context:

Fortification of urea, DAP and other commodity fertilisers with micronutrients is the way forward for boosting crop yields and maximising the use efficiency of imported nutrients.

PM officially launched

‘Urea Gold’ fertiliser – developed by the state-owned Rashtriya Chemicals and Fertilizers Ltd (RCF) – urea fortified with sulphur. Normal urea (46% N) whereas  Urea Gold (37% N + 17% S) – aim: tohi deliver S along with N and  to improve the nitrogen use efficiency (NUE) of urea to ensure a more gradual release of N. Thus plants stay greener for a longer time.

The problem

Urea is India’s most widely used fertiliser, with its consumption/sales rising from 26.7 million tonnes (mt) to 35.7 mt between 2009 – 2023.

  • Imports – 7.6 mt out of 35.7 mt sold last fiscal. Even with domestically-manufactured urea, the feedstock used – natural gas – is mostly imported.
  • NUE – Barely 35% of the N applied through urea in India is actually utilised by crops to produce harvested yields. The balance 65% N is “lost” through release into the atmosphere as ammonia gas or leaching below the ground after conversion into nitrate.

India cannot sustain the increase in consumption of urea or even di-ammonium phosphate (DAP), muriate of potash and other fertilisers.

The fortification solution

  • Instead, they must be coated with secondary nutrients (S, calcium and magnesium) as well as micronutrients (zinc, boron, manganese, molybdenum, iron, copper and nickel).
  • Coating not only allows urea or DAP to be used as “carrier products” for delivering secondary and micro nutrients to crops. It improves N and P use efficiency through synergistic effects and controlled release that helps reduce losses.
  • Ideally, the coating should be carried out at the factory itself, which will guarantee even more uniform distribution of micronutrients and save the farmer the hassles of mixing.

The hurdle

Pricing – These additional rates aren’t attractive enough for companies to market fortified products recognised under the Fertiliser Control Order.

For now, there’s not much incentive for fortification.

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