Fertilizer’s role in feeding the world

Since the 1960s the world’s population has doubled from 3.5 billion to more than 7 billion, yet available arable land has risen just 10%.

Meeting the food demands of this rapidly growing population represents a major challenge.

It is a challenge that was visible when we founded EuroChem more than 15 years ago. Russia is a country that has known food supply challenges in the past and I could see mounting global demand for fertilizers. Fertilizer is one of the great inventions of the 20th century, accounting for 50% of global food production. Without it, we would need to convert vast tracts of land, something approaching the size of Latin America, to arable use.

This is not feasible and the UN now expects a global population of 9.7 billion by 2050. So while agricultural technologies and fertilizers have already lifted billions out of poverty and famine, society must become even smarter in their use if they are to continue doing so.
Every year, our industry transforms millions of tonnes of natural raw materials, principally air, water, natural gas, phosphate and potash ores, into effective products that provide the nutrients crops need.

The pressure is on to produce more crops, more efficiently from less land, with a reduced environment footprint.

I believe this can be achieved through the more intelligent production and use of fertilizers, and greater investment in innovative agricultural technologies to make them even more effective.

Together with research and development partners worldwide, EuroChem is developing next-generation fertilizers that consume less energy during production, require less water to be effective and emit fewer greenhouse gas emissions when used.

Engineered to release nutrients more slowly, these fertilizers enable crops to absorb them more efficiently, reducing waste and run off.

EuroChem is also studying combinations of fertilizers with agricultural biologicals, including biofertilizers and biostimulants, to improve the soil root environment. After this will come greater personalisation of fertilizers, recognising that all soil differs, and what works on one crop in one field may not work as well in another.

These customized fertilizers will help farmers increase yields, save money by requiring fewer applications, and increase the value of harvests, with a smaller environmental footprint. Importantly, because balanced plant nutrition helps sustain soil function, there is a strong environmental case for these next-generation products.

We at EuroChem are proud to have built our company without reliance on subsidies or state aid.

However, good environmental regulation can help. In Switzerland, for example, reduced emissions achieved through the use of better fertilizers can be transferred by farmers to CO2 credit certificates and monetised.

I envisage a research-driven, high technology future for our industry. We are striving to realise this future, collaborating with researchers worldwide and working with Big Data. It is a huge challenge but one that we must meet.

Andrey Melnichenko is the co-founder and 90% beneficiary of EuroChem.

The interview was filmed with Sarah Lockett, Business Correspondent of The Business Debate and Dr Alexander Landia, Chairman, Eurochem.

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