Controlled- and Slow-Release Fertilizers
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Published: January 2013
Measured nutrient uptake (from fertilizers) by plants can be achieved through modification of fertilizer products—either chemically to reduce their solubility or physically, such as by coating encapsulation. These types of fertilizers are known as controlled- and slow-release fertilizers. These fertilizers belong to the larger group of enhanced efficiency fertilizers (EEFs), which also include nitrogen stabilizers, nitrification inhibitors, urease inhibitors and stabilized fertilizers. Controlled-release fertilizers are generally coated products (either with polymer or with sulfur or a combination of both). Slow-release fertilizers are noncoated products in which the nutrient release is uncontrolled but slow. These are mainly urea-aldehyde reaction products but include other slowly soluble products such as fertilizer spikes and ion exchange resin fertilizers. Whereas the bulk of the market belongs to the stabilizer and inhibitor categories, controlled-release and slow-release fertilizers are used at much smaller volumes and therefore might be considered as specialties.
The following pie chart shows consumption of controlled- and slow-release fertilizers in the major consuming regions:
The United States is the largest world market for controlled- and slow-release fertilizers, accounting for 70.1% of the demand in the three major regions, followed by Western Europe at 18.8% and Japan at 11.1%. China has begun to consume controlled- and slow-release fertilizers, but available data are limited. Chinese consumption is projected to grow at 10% annually during 2012–2017.
There is considerable difference in the market distribution of manufactured controlled- and slow-release fertilizers among the three major world regional markets. Nonagricultural markets predominate in the United States and Western Europe, but in Japan most consumption is in the agricultural market, particularly in rice fields. The agricultural crop market is typically for high-value crops.
Smaller volumes of controlled- and slow-release fertilizers are produced and consumed in other regions such as Canada, Central and Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. Additionally, in Other Asia, limited exposure to controlled- and slow-release fertilizers in the past has limited use. However, China has significantly increased controlled- and slow-release fertilizer production capacity in recent years, although operating rates remain under 50%. In 2012, the domestic markets for these products in China were still limited to ornamental, horticultural, and turf (golf course) applications. Consumption for field crops in China remains under development and is expected to take a few years to grow because of farmers' lack of knowledge about these products and because of their higher price. In India, there currently are only a few controlled- and slow-release fertilizer producers; however, with the growing Indian economy and increased awareness of environmental agricultural concerns, an increase in controlled- and slow-release fertilizer consumption is expected.
Demand for controlled- and slow-release fertilizers will continue to grow as they prove to be an efficient alternative to conventional fertilizers because of their environmentally friendly, resource-saving, and labor-saving characteristics. However, because of the high price of these fertilizers relative to conventional fertilizers, their use is still limited primarily to ornamental, horticultural and turf applications. As larger production scales for these materials are achieved, costs will continue to decline, making them more attractive for commodity/open-field/broad-acre crops such as corn, wheat and potatoes.
The trend toward increasing use of coated controlled-release fertilizers is expected to continue. Coated fertilizers, particularly polymer-coated products, have been the fastest-growing segment of the controlled- and slow-release fertilizer market, and will continue to grow at a faster rate than other controlled- and slow-release fertilizer types. Overall, global demand for these products will continue to increase at about 2% annually during 2012–2017 for horticultural and turf applications, including agricultural crop applications.