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Safety and quality control in fertilizer production: is it more important than ever?

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World Fertilizer,

Peter Morgan, Elementar UK, explains why elemental analysis will continue to play a vital role in the fertilizer production process for the foreseeable future.

By its very nature, fertilizer production is a delicate and demanding process, requiring precise attention to detail and quality standards in order to yield the best results. This has always been the case for this sector - but there is evidence that this focus on quality control is growing more intense than ever before.

As regulatory requirements shift, and environmental concerns push the sustainability of food supply chains into the global spotlight, fertilizer producers are under renewed pressure to ensure their products conform to the very highest safety and environmental standards. At the same time, they are expected to ensure their fertilizers continue to deliver the productivity gains upon which the agriculture sector has come to rely on.

As such, the safety methods and use of inspection technology in the fertilizer sector are likely to be scrutinised more than ever in the coming years. This makes it vital for manufacturers to embrace sophisticated, industry-standard elemental analysis capabilities to ensure their activities in this area remain fit for purpose.

The drive for higher standards in fertilizer production

As the world’s human population continues to grow, the global agriculture sector continues to look for new ways to maximise crop yields and maintain a sustainable supply of food to every region. At the same time, there is a growing awareness that any move to increase the use of fertilizers needs to be balanced against the legitimate ecological concerns associated with their deployment.

Irresponsible fertilizer usage has been linked to environmental issues such as soil acidification, groundwater pollution and the creation of greenhouse gases like nitrous oxide, which need to be strenuously avoided given the current climate challenges facing the global community. Manufacturers can contribute to this process by ensuring their fertilizers are formulated, produced and used in line with international regulations.

Moreover, with consumers becoming increasingly informed about the origins and production methods behind their groceries, the use of environmentally-friendly, high-quality fertilizers is set to be incentivised by market demand for years to come.

A changing regulatory landscape

At the same time, recent shifts in the regulatory status quo are creating an even greater focus on fertilizer formulations. Most notably, the UK’s departure from the European Union (EU) is set to create considerable uncertainty for producers, who may no longer be able to rely on regulatory alignment between two of the world’s most important agricultural markets.

For example, Brexit could lead to current rules governing the use of specific chemicals in fertilizers being relaxed by the British government for domestic manufacturers; meanwhile, it has already been confirmed that the process for importing potentially hazardous ammonium nitrate fertilizers into the UK is set to change, with a new testing and certification system coming into force.

This may require businesses to consider or adopt new approaches to selling or formulating their fertilizers - and that means investing in the latest, most effective process safety and quality inspection tools to make this process of change as smooth as possible.

The vital role of elemental analysis for fertilizer production

At a time when quality control and safety standards are under the microscope to an unprecedented degree, the benefits offered by tried-and-tested methodologies such as elemental analysis have never been more valuable.

Elemental analysis tools allow manufacturers to assess the carbon, nitrogen and sulfur content of their fertilizer samples - as well as to differentiate carbon content into total organic or total inorganic carbon fractions - to gain a more complete picture of fertilizer quality or soil fertility. Unwanted impurities can be detected at levels of a fraction of a percentage point, ensuring that each analysis carries the level of authority and clarity that quality-focused fertilizer producers require.

What is more, the most modern elemental analysers allow for carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen and sulfur content to be accurately measured in a single sample with minimal maintenance, resulting in the kind of rapid, efficient and reliable sample throughput required for industrial quality control applications within the fertilizer industry.

The advantages offered by elemental analysis will not be new to those involved in the sector, but with product purity and environmental stewardship continuing to rise on the agenda, the visibility that these techniques provide into fertilizer formulation and quality has taken on irreplaceable importance.

By investing in the right technology for analysing their fertilizer products, manufacturers will be playing a key role in making the entire agricultural marketplace more sustainable and resilient to the pressures it is facing. This, in turn, will help fertilizer companies to future-proof their own production models, as well as safeguard the global food supply chain, and the environment as a whole.

Author: Peter Morgan, Technical Product Specialist at Elementar UK

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