What is the Role of Fertilizer in Today’s Society?


February 14, 2012

I am constantly asked about the business of fertilizer and one of the most common inquiries I receive is “What is the role of fertilizer in today’s society?” The entire team at The Fertilizer Institute (TFI) spent countless hours in 2011 communicating about fertilizer and its role in feeding a world population that is expected to grow to nine billion by 2050.  Whether talking with farmers, meeting with members of Congress or even visiting with family members and friends, TFI remained committed to its mission to share information about nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and all of the plant nutrients that our industry produces, transports and supplies to crops throughout the United States.  

The fertilizer industry’s message is simple and it’s as true today as when it was spoken by W.A. Minor, Assistant to the Secretary of the United States Department of Agriculture, during the First Annual Convention of the American Plant Food Council in June 1946: “The fertilizer industry, right now, and historically, is in the business of saving lives—it is in the business of saving the soil—of raising the level of human nutrition and health.”  Given that fertilizer use is responsible for 40 to 60 percent of our food supply, our industry recognizes that it has a great deal of responsibility in meeting world food demand.  

One way the fertilizer industry is responding to the challenge of feeding two billion more people in the next three decades is by expanding its capacity to produce vital crop nutrients. The International Fertilizer Industry Association (IFA) estimates that since 2008 the industry has invested close to $40 billion in new capacity for the three primary

nutrients (nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium) in North Africa; West, South and East Asia; and North and South America. Additionally, IFA estimates that another $80 billion will be invested between 2011 and 2015. Adequate supplies of crop nutrients will be essential in the quest to end world hunger and our industry’s commitment to expand access to those nutrients plays a vital role in meeting the challenge. 

Our industry’s commitment to environmental stewardship and proper use of fertilizer products also plays a critical role in meeting global food demand and ensuring that increased food production is accomplished in a responsible and sustainable manner. TFI is promoting our industry’s commitment to stewardship through the 4R initiative, which includes the launch of a website, www.nutrientstewardship.com, that is dedicated to providing educational tools and resources that support the use of the right fertilizer source at the right rate, right time and in the right place. 

Securing access to crop nutrients is another important priority for TFI which contributes to increased food production while ensuring the safe handling, storage and application of fertilizers. TFI supports efforts to ensure that fertilizer products do not end up in the hands of people with ill intent. But, on the other hand, the Institute is dedicated to challenging policies and regulations that are not based on sound science or that overstep legal boundaries. 

In the pages that follow, you will find more information on all of the initiatives that TFI pursued on behalf of the fertilizer industry in 2011. You will also learn more about the challenges and opportunities facing the fertilizer industry and the agricultural community. In the coming year, TFI looks forward to ensuring its members’ ability to nourish the soils that will produce the food, feed, fuel and fiber necessary to meet the demands of a growing population.