Feeding Crops, Feeding the World – Part 2: Beyond the Big Three

scienceMalnutrition (both obesity and stunting) costs the global economy $3.5 trillion per year, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). But investing in nutrition-centered fertilizer research relieves this burden, resulting in productive populations and prosperous economies. Feeding crops well is a good starting point toward this solution. Innovating disruptive technologies that include wholesome nutrients yields additional – and healthier – food.

Nutrients for Crop and Human Health

For the past hundred years, fertilizer science focused on bulk production of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium (NPK). Creating low-cost, efficient manufacturing was most important – in hopes farmers would simply increase the use of primary nutrients to grow more food. But it’s time to move past the “big three.” Recent trials show that yields suffer from NPK-only fertilization, plateauing at optimal application rates. Adding small amounts of certain secondary and micronutrients (SMNs) intensifies crop growth by up to 50 percent.

In addition, these nutrients – especially iron and zinc – benefit both human health and economic prosperity.

The Toros Fertilizer and Chemical Industry in Turkey released zinc-fortified formulations. Farmers received a five-fold increase in crop yields and delivered a necessary mineral to consumers. While the product was initially expensive, the higher yields illustrated the potential to offset investment and deliver greater amounts of nutritious food. The jury is still out on how SMNs reach the grains – or edible parts – of crops, but the Virtual Fertilizer Research Center (VFRC) paves the way toward utilizing this knowledge.

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Nourishing Soils and People

The VFRC collaborates with a global team of experts to learn more about the link between fertilizers and nutrition. Current studies anticipate widespread use of SMN-infused fertilizers will nourish tired soils and the farmers who tend them. Some SMNs enhance the efficiency of nutrient uptake by plant roots, especially of N and P – leading to larger, more nutritious yields. The challenge is finding the best way to “package” SMN products, which we will discuss in the final blog of this series.

The fertilizer industry, working with public and private research organizations, has the ability to change global nutrition as we know it. IFDC President and CEO Amit Roy states stakeholders must move beyond the commodity mindset, from “volume to value.” Massive amounts of fertilizer do not necessarily produce massive amounts of food.

Products such as Toros’ zinc fertilizer exemplify the growth (both financially and nutritionally) to be gained from manufacturing innovative fertilizers.

What are your thoughts on achieving a nutritious food supply? Share them with us on Twitter @IFDCNews.

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