Firstly apologies for the bad pun but I couldn’t resist!
Fertilisers are an essential and massive industry in the UK and across the world; in 2013 1,456,000 tonnes of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium fertilisers (NPKs) were applied to UK soil to promote the growth of grass and crops.
Fertilisers can have a dramatic effect on the yield of a crop and many modern fertilisers are tailored to produce all kinds of effects from acting as stimulants for different parts of the plant to encouraging disease resistance and drought resistance. Fertilisers can be formulated for specific plants and for different stages in the growth cycle and for different soil types. Fertilisers as part of agriculture are truly a pillar on which our modern societies stand.
Like all industries however, fertiliser use creates problems, a major problem being fertiliser leaching. Many readers may remember from their O-Level or GCSE biology that nitrogen and phosphorus runoff into lakes and rivers can cause damage to rivers and other bodies of water by promoting massive algal growth that depletes oxygen causing other life in that body of water to die off.
On a more specific level urea based nitrogen fertilisers can result in large amounts of ammonia being released into the atmosphere, sometimes up to 40% of the applied urea is lost this way! Nitrate based fertilisers contribute several millions of tonnes of nitrous oxides to the atmosphere globally on an annual basis and also increase the nitrate levels that hit our drinking water, which can be harmful to young children if not adequately processed.
When not optimally applied other fertiliser nutrients can quickly leach out of soils or become precipitated in non-useful forms making then not readily available for the plants that were meant to benefit from them. Such effects are economically inefficient, environmentally damaging and represent a considerable health hazard.
It may sound like a difficult problem to manage but a little bit of intelligent planning, research, fertiliser selection and application can dramatically reduce these problems, help improve yields and ultimately save money whilst protecting the wider environment. The way to achieve this is to consider the system that you’re working with; what is the soil composition? What is the soil pH? What crops are you looking to grow? What overarching weather conditions are likely to be experienced? What is in the surrounding area? How many applications are viable? What other types of products are likely to be applied to the crop? How do you want to apply the fertilisers? How much money is available? Is there security of supply?
There is a lot to consider and there is a lot more science going into fertiliser than most people realise.
At Grotech we work with companies who are doing some innovative things with a range of materials from seaweed for promoting growth to micronutrient coated fertiliser prills and from biostimulant hormones and amino acids to specialised bacteria and root growth promoting chitosan derived from powdered shellfish exoskeletons.
It’s not all about high end new technologies though; often the biggest boost to a plant comes from the humble soluble salts that make up standard NPK formulation and as with humans plants need a whole host of other elements including sulphur, magnesium, calcium, iron, manganese, copper, zinc, nickel, molybdenum, boron, chloride, silicon, selenium, the list goes on!
These come in many forms and picking the right form depends greatly on the questions posed in the paragraph above. If you want to add potassium to your crop you might want to pick potassium chloride; it’s readily available and cheap so why not? Too much chloride can cause leaf burn in plants so it may not be the best choice after all; so then you may consider potassium nitrate or potassium phosphate or potassium sulphate or even an organic potassium salt. It’s all dependant on the specific needs to be addressed.
You may come across terms such as fast release and slow release fertilisers, this too can be critical to your choice of fertilisers and how you choose to apply them. Highly soluble salts provide a quick-hit but can leach easily and so should be applied in small quantities but often; slow realise fertilisers such as coated prills or salts with solubility will provide a lower but longer term amount of available nutrients to a plant.
Organic materials such as seaweed, humates, lignosulphonates, etc. are all finding good levels of use as they can provide beneficial growth stimulants, improved water and nutrient retention to the soil and slow release nutrient forms of elements such as sulphur. Since the introduction of flue-gas delsulphurisation of power plants the amount of sulphur available in soils has decreased, which is an interesting consequence of a move designed to help improve the impact of industry on the environment. This nicely demonstrates how the requirements for fertiliser are definitely not static and there will always be changes to our wider society that affect what we can and need to apply onto our crops.
There are many off-the-shelf fertilisers available for domestic use, hydroponic greenhouses and intensive crop farming, some are general purpose, some are plant specific, some are plant and growth stage specific. There can be times though when an existing product doesn’t quite fit the bill and tight margins and timescales require something a little more bespoke.
If an agronomist has reported that you need something that little bit different and you can’t find it or you want something specific without having to pay premium prices then consider giving us a call on the matter.
Going bespoke doesn’t have to cost the Earth.
For more information on our Bespoke NPK service, call Grotech Production on 01405 761746