Fertilisers & Pesticides

Key to 'More Crop, Per Drop'

Addressing a gathering of scientists on the occasion of 86th foundation day of Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), Prime Minster Narendra Modi said: "You gave me a standing ovation. I would, however, like to request you to give a standing ovation to our farmers who feed the people of India."

Calling for a 'lab to land' approach to increase farm productivity, PM Narendra Modi urged agricultural scientists to disseminate technologies to farmers in simple and acceptable manner and make 'More Crop, Per Drop' a mantra to promote farming.

There is a dire need to increase per hectare productivity. A judicious mix of traditional wisdom and new technologies will strengthen capabilities of farmers so that food security can be ensured for the country and the world, along with the enhancement of profits for them. The use of fertilisers and pesticides, thus become a sine qua non for modern day agriculture, which remains an extremely important issue as more than half of the country's population relies on it for a living.

Hunger, rising food prices and a booming population have created a major challenge for policymakers in India – how to ensure that agriculture produces enough yields to feed billions?

Green Revolution introduced in the late 1960s, witnessed increased use of irrigation, high-yielding seeds, fertilisers and pesticides. In fact, Green Revolution relied heavily on fertilisers and pesticides.

Fertilisers and pesticides are used to increase crop yields and to replace soil nutrients removed with harvested crops, thus helping India become self-sufficient in food grain production. Both fertilisers and pesticides have become major cost of production in India along with the cost of other inputs like seeds, and labour cost.

Fertilisers and Pesticides

Fertiliser is any organic or inorganic material of natural or synthetic origin, which is added to soil to supply one or more plant nutrients essential to the growth of plants. Several surveys have found that about 40-60 percent of crop yields are attributable to commercial fertiliser use.

Being the most widely used form of chemical in agriculture, fertilisers can be divided into two categories: organic and inorganic. Organic fertilisers are derived from living systems and include animal manure, guano (bird or bat excrement), fish and bone meal, and compost. These organic fertilisers are decomposed by micro-organisms in the soil to release their nutrients. These nutrients are then taken up by the plants. Both organic and inorganic fertilisers supply the nutrients required for maximum growth of the crop. Inorganic fertilisers contain higher concentrations of chemicals that may be in short supply in the soil. The major or macro-nutrients in inorganic fertilisers are nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium.

There has been a significant loss of agricultural land, thanks to the expansion of cities. Proper use of fertilisers and pesticides has resulted in an increase in crop yield, hence compensating for this loss of land.

Fertilisers Provide in Varying Proportions

Six macronutrients: nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), potassium (K), calcium (Ca), magnesium (Mg), and sulfur (S);

Seven micronutrients: boron (B), chlorine (Cl), copper (Cu), iron (Fe), manganese (Mn), molybdenum (Mo), and zinc (Zn).

According to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, the term pesticide includes chemicals used to control insects, fungi and weeds. They prevent crop failure, control invasive plants, or promote a uniformly green lawn. Some pesticides reduce blemishes on fruits and vegetables, making them more marketable.

Subclasses of pesticides include: herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, rodenticides, pediculicides, and biocides. Many pesticides can be grouped into chemical families. Prominent insecticide families include organochlorines, organophosphates, and carbamates. Organochlorine hydrocarbons (eg DDT) could be separated into dichlorodiphenylethanes, cyclodiene compounds, and other related compounds. They operate by disrupting the sodium/potassium balance of the nerve fibre, forcing the nerve to transmit continuously. Their toxicities vary greatly, but they have been phased out because of their persistence and potential to bio accumulate. Organophosphate and carbamates largely replaced organochlorines.

The introduction of synthetic insecticides – organophosphate (OP) insecticides in the 1960s, carbamates in 1970s and pyrethroids in 1980s and the introduction of herbicides and fungicides in the 1970s–1980s contributed greatly to pest control and agricultural output. Ideally a pesticide must be lethal to the targeted pests, but not to non-target species, including man.

At the UGC Research Outreach Workshop on 'Sustainable livelihood' held at SPKCES, a satellite centre of the Manonmaniam Sundaranar University at Alwarkurichi in Tamil Nadu, faculty member of Sri Paramakalyani Centre of Excellence in Environmental Sciences, Alwarkurichi, Dr A G Murugesan told The Hindu: "The per-hectare use of agrochemicals in farming activities of the country has increased 170 times since 1960s."

Dr A G Murugesan urged to move to organic farming pattern by promoting plant-based fertilisers and pesticides, which can be prepared with locally available raw materials like neem, turmeric, vasambu, cow dung, vermicompost, panchakavyam etc.

"By telling the farmers about the advantages of organic farming practices and the evils of chemical fertilisers and pesticides, the local body heads should discuss these issues in gram sabha meetings," Dr Murugesan appealed.

Fertilisers and pesticides increase yields, and make a significant difference in food production. The use of fertilisers and pesticides can double or triple food production. Increased yields, in turn, reduce the need for conversion of wild lands to agriculture, thus playing a crucial role in the conservation of biodiversity.

Regular supply of fertilisers to plants is a must to ensure their regular growth and yield. Take a look.

Essential Nutrients

The fertility of the soil largely depends on the amount and rate of nutrients provided to it. To enhance healthy and continuous growth of plants, it is important to provide the soil with adequate nutrients. Fertilisers contain the essential nutrients that are supplied to the soil.

Increasing Resistance

Fertilisers increase the capacity of the plants to hold more water and thus, becoming more resistant to even severe drought conditions.

Early Blooms

The phosphorus content in fertiliser shortens the blooming time of flowering plants, and helps in the early maturity of plants.

Growth Booster and Greening Agent

Fertiliser containing nitrogen functions as a growth booster and greening agent.

Soil Fertility

Fertilisers form an integral part of soil fertility and texture. Natural fertilisers, such as compost and manure, serve as the best soil enhancers, thereby eradicating various soil problems.

Soil nutrients are required for the healthy growth and development of plants and they must be replenished, else soil will become incapable of sustaining plant life. Fertilisers are used to put these nutrients back into the ground. While organic fertilisers like livestock manure improve soil quality, manufactured fertilisers give soil the quick boost needed during the growing season.

Pesticides provide an agricultural benefit by controlling pests that can damage or kill plants. There has been a steady growth in the production of technical grade pesticides in India. Tremendous benefits have been derived from the use of pesticides in agriculture, a sector upon which the Indian economy is largely dependent. Pesticides have been an integral part of the process by reducing losses from the weeds, diseases and insect pests.

Agri Bio-Fertiliser: Revolutionising the Agricultural Landscape

Bio-fertiliser is a substitute to chemical fertiliser, which helps to prevent soil deterioration and pollution of the ground water table. The growing agri bio-fertiliser sector has urged the government to divert 10 percent of funds from the overall budgetary allocations of the chemical fertiliser industry to it.

"A level-playing field needs to be created between the chemical fertiliser and bio-fertiliser industry. A budgetary allocation of even 10 percent of the subsidy being provided to chemical fertilisers will provide a huge boost to the bio-fertiliser industry," Santosh Nair, Chief Executive Officer of Camson Biotechnologies Ltd, leading player in bio-fertiliser sector, told the Business Standard.

"Such a step would revolutionise the agricultural landscape in India, as it will reduce the buying cost of bio-inputs by more than 50 percent. This would empower farmers to gain greater agricultural efficiency and success while improving India's soil health at the same time," said Nair.

India's total subsidy bill for chemical fertiliser stands at `220,000 crore of which, 30 percent is utilised only for urea import. Total urea requirement in India is estimated at 32 million tonnes. India also imports nearly half of its complex fertiliser requirement of 28 million tonnes a year.

As the world's population increases and the diet of the developing world continue to improve, food production will have to increase by up to 70 percent by 2050. Fertilisers and pesticides will definitely play a major role in this production uplift.

India loses nearly 30 percent of its potential crop to insects, weeds and rodent attacks. The Pesticides/Crop Protection/Agrochemicals industry plays a crucial role in protecting crops from damage by weeds, pests, insects and fungus, both before and after harvest. This helps to increase crop yields, which is important given the rate at which cultivable land is shrinking.