Global Fertilizer Day: Harnessing Nitrogen

On the 13th of October every year, the agricultural world comes together to celebrate one of the most revolutionary inventions: the harvesting of nitrogen from the air. This remarkable invention gave birth to modern-day fertilizers, and consequently, Global Fertilizer Day is commemorated to honor this milestone in agricultural innovation.

At the heart of this celebration lies the simple yet profound understanding of nitrogen’s role in plant growth. Nitrogen is an essential component of amino acids, proteins, and nucleic acids, foundational to all life forms. Although the Earth’s atmosphere is composed of about 78% nitrogen, plants cannot directly utilize this atmospheric nitrogen. Instead, they rely on nitrogen compounds present in the soil.

Historically, farmers depended on organic materials like manure, compost, or crop residues to replenish soil nitrogen. However, the growing human population necessitated a more reliable and voluminous nitrogen source. This need led to the invention of the Haber-Bosch process in the early 20th century, a method that captures nitrogen from the air and converts it into ammonia.

The advent of modern fertilizers changed the face of agriculture, dramatically increasing crop yields. With the world’s population expected to reach nearly 10 billion by 2050, ensuring food security becomes paramount. Here’s how fertilizers play an indispensable role:

  • Fertilizers provide essential nutrients that might be deficient in the soil, resulting in higher crop production.
  • Sustainable Farming and modern precision agriculture use fertilizers more efficiently by utilizing the 4R method, delivering the right source, the right amount, at the right time and place, minimizing wastage and environmental impact.
  • Fertilizers improve the nutritional content of foods. Adequate fertilization can enhance the nutritional value of crops, leading to healthier diets.

Global Fertilizer Day isn’t just a celebration of an invention. It’s an acknowledgment of fertilizers’ central role in ensuring food security for billions worldwide. As we get ready to mark this day, let’s appreciate the immense contributions of the agricultural community and reaffirm our commitment to sustainable farming practices, ensuring a nourished and secure future for all.

For ways you can be involved in Global Fertilizer Day, click HERE.

The ACE Act Could Grow 4R Research

The Advancing Cutting Edge (ACE) Agriculture Act (S.834) was introduced in the US Senate by Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Roger Marshall (R-KS) on March 16, 2023. The legislation will establish a new program within the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) called the ACE Agriculture Research and Extension Program, which would provide grants to universities, research institutions, and other organizations to conduct research and develop new technologies and practices in areas such as precision agriculture, plant and animal breeding, soil health, and water management.

The ACE Agriculture Act aims to promote innovation in American agriculture and help farmers and ranchers stay competitive in a rapidly changing global marketplace. By investing in research and development, the bill seeks to support adopting cutting-edge technologies and practices that can increase productivity, reduce costs, and improve sustainability in the agriculture sector, including research related to 4R Nutrient Stewardship.

The 4R Nutrient Stewardship, also known as the 4Rs, is an approach to fertilizer management that involves using the right source of fertilizer, at the right rate, at the right time, and in the right place. This approach aims to optimize nutrient use efficiency and minimize nutrient losses to the environment, promoting sustainable agricultural practices. Studies have shown that using the 4R method has proven benefits, including reducing nutrient losses and increasing yields.

The 4R Research Fund was established to develop sustainability indicators and environmental impact data for the implementation of 4R Nutrient Stewardship across North America. The fund offers essential resources to measure and document the economic, social, and environmental impacts of 4R Nutrient Stewardship.

4R Research encompasses a broad range of studies related to nutrient management, including research on fertilizer formulation and application, soil health, crop yields, and environmental impacts. The 4R Research website,, lists industry and government-funded research projects related to 4R Nutrient Stewardship, which can be a valuable resource for individuals interested in learning more about current research in this area.

The most important part of all research is finding ways it can be practically applied and publicly promoted. The 4R Advocates program is an initiative by The Fertilizer Institute (TFI) to recognize individuals and retailers who implement 4R Nutrient Stewardship concepts on their farms. Each year, some of the top 4R farmers and retailers in the U.S. are selected by TFI as annual 4R Advocates. These farms actively demonstrate the 4R Nutrient Stewardship concept, which is shown to maximize crop yields while minimizing nutrient loss to the environment and improving soil health.

The ACE Agriculture Act is related to 4R Research and 4R Nutrient Stewardship. It seeks to fund research on sustainable agricultural practices, including research related to 4R Nutrient Stewardship, to support the long-term sustainability and productivity of the U.S. agricultural sector. As part of its efforts to support sustainable agriculture, the ACE Agriculture Act includes funding for research on 4R Nutrient Stewardship practices, including plant and soil health, precision agriculture, and water management programs aimed at reducing the environmental impact of agriculture activities.

In addition to funding research, the ACE Agriculture Research and Extension Program would provide funding for extension services to help farmers and ranchers adopt new technologies and practices in their operations. This could include training and education on 4R Nutrient Stewardship practices, as well as other sustainable agriculture practices.

The ACE Agriculture Act and the 4R nutrient stewardship framework both aim to promote sustainable agriculture practices that can improve productivity, reduce costs, and improve environmental outcomes in the agriculture sector. The research funded by the ACE Agriculture Research and Extension Program could include studies on the 4R nutrient stewardship framework and its application in different agricultural systems. This could consist of adopting 4R practices by providing funding for research and development in areas such as precision agriculture, soil health, and water management. While the ACE Act will increase funding for new research and applied agricultural science, organizations like TFI are critical in sharing the importance and impact of these efforts with the public.

Potential Growth for Biostimulants

Biostimulants are growing in popularity in the agronomic market as innovative new products to optimize crop production and quality. Biostimulants, by definition, are substances or microorganisms that promote plant growth, nutrient uptake, crop quality or yield, and/or stress tolerance. Interest in biostimulant products has increased, especially in regards to sustainable agriculture as they may improve nutrient use efficiency.

Biostimulants fit into the 4R nutrient stewardship framework with their contribution to nutrient use efficiency. Biostimulants can improve this nutrient efficiency with two major mechanisms: 1) by improving nutrient capture through nutrient availability or larger root systems, or 2) by improving the plant’s ability to metabolize nutrients and convert nutrients to increased yields.

Numerous types of biostimulants are available for use in agriculture. The categories recognized by the industry include live microbials, seaweed extracts, humic or fulvic acids, free amino acids and peptides, and purified molecules.

Live microbials include both inoculants that can build nodules on the root (e.g., the commonly used rhizobium in soybean), free-living N-fixing bacteria, and fungi (e.g., mycorrhizae) to extend the root system. Living microbials are designed to enhance nutrient uptake and availability to the plant and are also called biologicals, as they are living organisms (as the definition of biology infers living).

Seaweed extracts contain various natural compounds that can lead to better root growth and nutrient absorption. Humic acids, fulvic acids, and humates are obtained from decomposed organic matter and can improve soil structure, fertility, and plant health. The humics, fulvics, and humates are also called complex carbon-based products as they are derived from organics, and organic itself means the substance contains carbon. The amino acids and protein hydrolysates are the building blocks of proteins in organisms and have been shown to help improve N assimilation and utilization in the plant. The last category, the purified molecules, comes from minerals, plants, animals, and microbes, and are reported to help with stress responses in the plant. When a plant is stressed, its response is to shut down growth. Biostimulants are designed to help plants under stress mitigate some of those plant responses and encourage growth.

Each of the biostimulants has specific benefits for plants and soil. It is crucial to select the appropriate biostimulant to target higher crop yields, better plant nutrition, improved soil fertility, or potentially reduce the need for inputs such as water and fertilizer.

Biostimulants have the potential to improve farming in several ways:

Crop performance: By providing plants with essential nutrients, biostimulants can help improve plant performance, potentially resulting in better yields and higher-quality produce. Also, biostimulants can help plants cope with environmental stress such as flooding, drought, and severe temperatures.

Optimizing inputs:  Some biostimulants can allow plants to better utilize nutrient inputs such as fertilizer. These biostimulants can increase nutrient uptake or optimize fertilizer use by the plant. In turn, this can reduce off-farm nutrient loss to waterways and to the atmosphere as greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Promoting sustainability: Biostimulants are primarily derived from natural sources and are usually biodegradable, making them a sustainable option. Farmers can potentially get the maximum advantages of inputs such as fertilizer by using biostimulants. In addition to optimizing inputs, biostimulants can also help to maintain soil biodiversity, which is critical for sustainable and regenerative agriculture. Stimulated root growth from biostimulants can help increase underground biomass, and may lead to greater carbon sequestration and mitigating of greenhouse gases.

Increasing profitability: By improving the efficiency of nutrient uptake by plants and allowing them to make better use of the nutrients already present in the soil, biostimulants may improve profits for farmers. Choosing the right biostimulant for the farmers’ operation can lead to yield gains and overall profit increases.

Biostimulants have promise to be highly valuable agricultural products and can have a significant impact on farming practices. As farmers continue to look for more sustainable and efficient ways to produce crops, biostimulants are emerging as an promising tool. Overall, biostimulants have the potential to improve farming by providing a way to assist crop performance and optimize inputs, which helps promote sustainable farming practices while increasing profitability. We encourage state and federal regulators and legislators to create a streamlined and efficient path to market for these products. Doing so will give growers better access to these products to provide the food, fuel, and fiber needed to support a growing world.