Fertilizer is a key ingredient in feeding a growing global population.
Half of all food grown around the world today is made possible through the use of fertilizer. As demand continues to grow, the role of fertilizer in increasing production efficiency will only become more important.
Plants need 17 elements to reach their full nutritional potential. Three of these elements – carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen – are obtained through the air and water. The remaining 14 have to come from the soil through the plant’s roots. These elements are what make up our modern day fertilizers. They’re divided into three categories: macronutrients, secondary nutrients, and micronutrients.
Nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium are macronutrients, and all must be present in soil in the right form and at the right rate, time, and place to grow healthy crops. Macronutrients make up the bulk of all fertilizer produced, and these three primary nutrients are necessary for plant growth.
Nitrogen is essential in the formation of vital proteins not just in the plants we eat, but all living things. The earth’s atmosphere is about 78 percent nitrogen by volume; however, most plants can’t get their nitrogen directly from the air and require nitrogen fertilizer. Nitrogen fertilizer is made by capturing nitrogen from the air and combining it with hydrogen derived from natural gas. This production method is called the Haber-Bosch process.
Phosphorus is involved in many processes critical to plant development. Key among them is photosynthesis, the process that plants use when converting sunlight to energy. The phosphorus in most commercial fertilizers comes from phosphate rock found in fossil remains originally laid down beneath ancient sea beds. Fertilizer manufacturers mine deposits of phosphate rock, which are converted into phosphate fertilizers.
Potassium, also known as potash, is essential for carbohydrate and starch synthesis, and it also helps plants resist wilting. Up to 98 percent of potassium in the soil is unavailable to plants in its existing form, making potash fertilizer essential for crop production. Potassium, like nitrogen, also helps plants produce protein as they grow. Like phosphate, potassium is mined from mineral deposits.
Secondary nutrients, while still essential for plant growth, are typically needed in smaller quantities than macronutrients.
Calcium is used to help reduce soil acidity and aids nutrient absorption within the plant itself. It also improves a plant’s ability to resist disease.
Magnesium is a component of chlorophyll so, like phosphorus, is necessary for photosynthesis. It’s also important to help the plant metabolize that very same phosphorus molecule.
Sulfur is another element that is already in the soil, but typically in amounts that are insufficient for many crops. Plants use sulfur to synthesize important amino acids, and it’s useful to boost winter hardiness.
Micronutrients may sound less important, but they’re not. The ‘micro’ means plants only require trace amounts, but they still can’t do without them. Together, they support all aspects of plant growth including structural integrity, vitamin production, and increasing yields.
The fertilizer industry is made up of companies who represent the entire supply chain from production to distribution to retail, all working together to deliver fertilizer to farmers in a safe, timely, and sustainable manner. The United States is the world’s third largest producer of nitrogen fertilizers and the second largest producer of phosphate.
The U.S. fertilizer industry generates more than $155 billion in economic benefit annually and provides more than 89,000 direct jobs and 406,000 indirect jobs for a total of more than 495,000 U.S. jobs.
This report tracks industry performance on environmental, economic, and social indicators across the entire value chain. Now in its third year, the State of the Industry report seeks to measure and evaluate industry efforts to identify successes and target areas for improvement. This year, 33 companies participated in this report. Fourteen of these companies manufacture fertilizer and account for 98 percent of total nitrogen and 95 percent of total phosphate production capacity in the United States. This report gathers data across the entire value chain; 19 participating companies are retailers, wholesalers, and distribution companies. A full accounting of the data collected for this report is available in the appendix at the end of the report.
|AdvanSix Inc.||Harsco Metals and Minerals||The Andersons Inc.|
|Agrium (now Nutrien)||International Raw Materials||The McGregor Company|
|Apache Nitrogen Products Inc.||J.R. Simplot Company||The Mosaic Company|
|Bio Huma Netics, Inc.||K&S North America||TradeMark Nitrogen|
|CALAMCO||Koch Ag and Energy Solutions||Trammo Inc.|
|CF Industries||LSB Industries||Twin State, Inc.|
|CHS||MFA Incorporated||United Suppliers|
|Coffeyville Resources Nitrogen Fertilizers||Morral Companies||Wilbur-Ellis|
|Compass Minerals||OCI Fertilizers USA||Willard Agri-Service|
|Dakota Gasification||PotashCorp (now Nutrien)||WinField Solutions|
|GROWMARK||SQM North America||Yara North America|