Nutrient Use Efficiency


The research team engages in several ongoing fertilizer development projects under the IFDC Nitrogen Efficiency and the Phosphate Initiative, which focus on increasing the use efficiency of nitrogen and phosphate fertilizers among other nutrient-specific research efforts.



Nitrogen Efficiency Initiative

The efficiency of nitrogen-based fertilizers used in developing countries is surprisingly low; only about 33 percent of the applied nutrient is utilized by various crops. The remaining two-thirds become a potential environmental pollutant through nitrification, denitrification, leaching or runoff. These lost fertilizer nutrients also reduce farmers’ profits, as optimal yields are not achieved.

Low nitrogen efficiency stems from both outdated fertilizer products and inappropriate application methods. IFDC focuses its research on the management of applied fertilizers and the development of new products that are more efficient. For example, the Center pioneered fertilizer deep placement (FDP), a technology that increases crop yields (and thus incomes), decreases pollution and uses less fertilizer per hectare.

IFDC is working to develop the next generation of fertilizer products and production technologies in partnership with the VFRC. The VFRC is partnering with universities, public and private research laboratories and the global fertilizer and agribusiness industries to bring together the best scientific, business, government and entrepreneurial minds to create a research system that produces fertilizer technologies that generate more food with fewer wasted resources and a reduced environmental impact.



Phosphate Efficiency Initiative

Phosphates are a naturally occurring, finite resource found within igneous and sedimentary rock deposits around the world. Phosphates are the primary, nutrient-rich source of the element phosphorus (P), an essential nutrient for crop growth. However, phosphate rock reserves are dwindling and the conversion of phosphate rock to water-soluble phosphate fertilizer is expensive and inefficient. As a result of inefficiencies in its production and use, less than 30 percent of the phosphate rock mined to produce phosphorus-based fertilizer ever becomes a part of the food chain.

To address these production and use inefficiencies, and to develop direct application solutions, IFDC began its Phosphate Efficiency Initiative. One element of this research is focused on determining the amount of phosphate reserves and resources available worldwide and how long they will last at current usage levels. This information is essential as the industry seeks to increase production efficiency while phosphorus conservation and recycling efforts are also underway. Another area of research is the effort to make directly applied phosphate rock as effective as more expensive water-soluble phosphate fertilizers. Improving the availability of phosphorus to crops from directly applied phosphate rock, preferably from indigenous resources, in diverse agro-climatic conditions and cropping systems can dramatically increase the availability and affordability of phosphate fertilizer for resource-poor smallholder farmers in the developing world.

For more information, see World Phosphate Rock Reserves and Resources.