An aim to cut artificial fertiliser use by 20% by 2030 may come sooner than we think, but by default, as market prices go beyond the reach of many farmers.

EU targets of a 20% reduction in artificial fertiliser use by 2030 and Irish Government aims of switching to protected nitrogen now look to be up in the air.

New policies aim to decrease nitrogen use, switch to protected nitrogen products and improve soil fertility by building phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) in order to become more efficient in fertiliser use, but it now appears fertiliser prices may prevent policy from travelling in the desired direction.

Road block

The most recent announcement of a fertiliser plant closure affecting ammonia and nitrogen products will again put a road block in the way of Government plans.

The push for protected urea hit a stumbling block earlier this year, as farmers struggled to get their hands on the product in many parts of the country.

According to Ag Climatise, the Government aims to have farmers replace urea with protected urea (which prevents the loss of ammonia to the air) by the end of 2023, meaning that straight urea would no longer be in use.

It is also the aim to have 65% of calcium ammonium nitrate (CAN) sales sold as protected urea or protected nitrogen by 2030 – increasing linearly over the decade.

As fertiliser prices changed on a weekly and, at times, daily basis in spring, companies were struggling to get their hands on stock and there were delays on shipments coming into the country.

As a result, stocks of protected urea were also short and, as prices rose, merchants were less willing to purchase the product in case they would be left with stocks.

Where to now?

With fertiliser markets now in turmoil, these goals may become hard to achieve.

Urea is headed for over €600/t and protected urea is another €40/t to 50/t on top of that price.

In a high-price year, that extra spend makes a big difference to the decision of which product to spread.

The issue of stocks will no doubt come up again. With supplies tight, it is likely that there will be delays with stock coming into the country similar to last season.

The plan to improve soil fertility is another one which may now fall by the wayside, as the price of P and K has sky-rocketed.

Best use of organic manures will need to be made, but with only 20% of soils at optimum levels for soil pH, P and K, there is a lot of ground to be made up.

The reality is that fertiliser prices in general have almost doubled since January 2021 and paying between €500/t and €600/t for compounds cannot be justified on farms already on the borderline for profits.

Soil sampling scheme

In order to improve fertiliser use efficiency, farmers should soil test and save on some costs by applying for the soil sampling programme, which opens on Monday 27 September.