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How to make Urea more efficient as a fertiliser, and why that’s needed

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How to make Urea more efficient as a fertiliser, and why that’s needed

Context- Late last month, Prime Minister Narendra Modi officially launched ‘Urea Gold’ fertiliser. Developed by the state-owned Rashtriya Chemicals and Fertilizers Ltd (RCF), it is basically urea fortified with sulphur.

(Credits- Indian Express)

Normal urea contains 46% of a single plant nutrient: Nitrogen or N. Urea Gold has 37% N plus 17% sulphur or S and aims at two things. The first is to deliver S along with N. Indian soils are deficient in S, which oilseeds and pulses – the country is significantly import-dependent in both – particularly require. The second is to improve the nitrogen use efficiency (NUE) of urea. Coating of S over urea ensures a more gradual release of N. By prolonging the urea action, the plants stay greener for a longer time.

The problem

  • Urea is India’s most widely used fertiliser, with its consumption/sales rising from 7 million tonnes (mt) to 35.7 mt between 2009-10 and 2022-23. The Modi government’s measures, such as mandatory coating of all urea with neem oil and reducing the size of bags from 50 to 45 kg, enabled a slight dip after 2013-14 till 2017-18. But the subsequent period has shown renewed uptrend.

(Credits – Indian Express)

  • There are two concerns over rising urea consumption. The first is imports, which accounted for 7.6 mt out of the total 35.7 mt sold last fiscal. Even with regard to domestically- manufactured urea, the feedstock used – natural gas – is mostly imported.
  • The second concern is NUE. Barely 35% of the N applied through urea in India is actually utilised by crops to produce harvested yields. The balance 65% N is unavailable to the plants, much of it “lost” through release into the atmosphere as ammonia gas or leaching below the ground after conversion into nitrate.

The fortification solution

  • There is growing consensus, including in the government, that India cannot sustain the above increase in consumption of urea – or even di-ammonium phosphate (DAP), muriate of potash and other fertilisers containing just primary nutrients: N, P (phosphorus) and K (potassium).
  • A country with hardly any natural gas or rock phosphate, potash and sulphur reserves shouldn’t, beyond a point, encourage the consumption of these commodity fertilisers in plain-vanilla form.
  • Instead, they must be coated with secondary nutrients (S, calcium and magnesium) as well as micronutrients (zinc, boron, manganese, molybdenum, iron, copper and nickel).
  • Coating not only allows urea or DAP to be used as “carrier products” for delivering secondary and micro nutrients to It improves their own N and P use efficiency through synergetic effects and controlled release

The hurdle

  • That has to do with pricing.
  • The government currently permits coating of urea with zinc (for which fertiliser concerns can recover an extra Rs 542 per tonne or about Rs 24 for a 45-kg bag) and sulphur (for which the MRP is still to be finalized). Urea apart, an additional subsidy of Rs 300 and Rs 500 per tonne is being provided for P&K fertilisers fortified with boron and zinc,
  • These additional rates aren’t attractive enough for companies to market zincated urea, boronated DAP or any of the 20-odd fortified products recognised under the Fertiliser Control Order.
  • Sulphur-coated urea has been similarly found by the Indian Agricultural Research Institute to boost wheat yields by roughly 10% and enhance nitrogen efficiency by 60%.
  • For now, there’s not much incentive for fortification

Conclusion – Ideally, the coating should be carried out at the factory itself, which will guarantee even more uniform distribution of micronutrients and save the farmer the hassles of mixing. The government can probably set free the MRPs for all coated fertilisers.

Syllabus- GS-3; Agriculture

Source- Indian Express

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