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Fertilizer Consumption Declines Sharply
Global consumption of inorganic fertilizers fell 7.5 percent to 156 million tons in 2008, the sharpest one-year decline in nearly half a century of data collection.1 (See Figure 1.) The decline was a direct response to price spikes in 2007 and 2008 that caused demand to fall.
Demand for fertilizer had been expanding rapidly over the last decade, driven by growing demand for crops used to produce biofuels and to raise livestock, which drove fertilizer prices in April 2008 to at least double the levels of a year earlier.2 Farmers were unable or unwilling to pay that much, and consumption is believed to have dropped 1–5 percent in 2009.3 The global credit collapse, trade recession, and slowing of world economic growth further reduced demand, which in turn caused fertilizer prices to drop dramatically to pre-2007 levels. Now farmers have begun to restock their inventories.4 Early indications show that global demand for fertilizer has grown by 4 percent in 2010, and sustained growth rates are expected over the next four years.5
Fertilizer increases agricultural yields and is now used in the production of 40–60 percent of the world’s food supply.6 Inorganic fertilizer (also called chemical fertilizer, commercial fertilizer, or artificial fertilizer)—the chief source of added nutrients in commercial agriculture today—is manufactured through the crushing of minerals, mechanical enrichment, or chemical transformation of raw materials.7 It contains three major nutrients—nitrogen, phosphorus, and potash—but unlike manures and other organic fertilizers, it lacks the organic matter and other ingredients that build soil structure and contribute to soil health. And it carries substantial environmental risk, especially as a water pollutant.
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