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Feeding Europe's Future: Part 1

Published by , Assistant Editor
World Fertilizer,

Jacob Hansen, Fertilizers Europe, Belgium, details how Europe's fertilizer industry can help to address the challenge of meeting its future food requirements in a more sustainable way.

We live in fascinating times where technology is evolving at an ever-increasing pace, spurring major shifts in many industries, including fertilizer. Looking into the future of European agriculture in general and the fertilizer industry in particular, the challenges of productive and sustainable future food production, plus the challenges stemming from Europe’s ambition to decarbonise the economy and promote the circular economy will be intertwined. The European mineral fertilizer industry will be at the crossroads where these two challenges meet. Fertilizers Europe’s vision “Feeding Life 2030” highlights how the European fertilizer industry can play a vital role in addressing these challenges.

Feeding Life 2030

Meeting future food needs remains a major challenge. Today, fertilizers already help feed almost 50% of the global population, yet some 10% of the global population remains undernourished. Meanwhile, the UN estimates that the world’s population will continue to grow, reaching 8.6 billion by 2030 (up from 7.6 billion today). In other words, it is necessary to find a way to feed an extra Germany every year.

In Europe, unlike many other parts of the world, undernourishment is no longer a major concern as a large majority of farmers apply fertilizers to enhance the yield and quality of their products. The focus in Europe is rather on meeting future food needs in a more sustainable way. In order to provide European consumers with high quality, nutritious, diverse, and sustainably-produced food, the highest quality plant nutrients and the best management practices are required.

Mineral fertilizers are and will remain an essential source of nutrients for plants, as they are needed to balance and supplement organic sources in order to provide plants with optimal growing conditions. The challenge is to improve the efficiency of fertilizer use, and the solution lies in ‘applying more knowledge per hectare’. What does this mean in practical terms?

Better fertilizer products and products more targeted to the specific crop, and encompassing the latest knowledge combined with new technologies, are an important part of this. So are new tools allowing for real-time assessment of the fertilizer needs of crops in the field which, combined with GPS and intelligent equipment, makes it possible to adjust the application so that the plants are fed according to their needs. The vision foresees that professional farmers and growers will become even more knowledgeable and demanding in terms of nutrient input by 2030. They are expected to focus increasingly on nutrient use efficiency and to do this, they will rely more profoundly on professional advice, planning, and new tools, as well as technology. Precision farming entails great opportunities for the future because it allows farmers to apply fertilizer where it is required, in the amount that is needed, optimising overall application and increasing yields. The application of knowledge will also have a positive effect on the environment, as better and more targeted fertilization will increase the growth of plants and thereby diminish losses to the environment.

In 2030 it is possible that European farmers will focus even more heavily on specialised production and high value crops, leaving other parts of the world to produce more bulk commodities. This, in turn, will lead to a demand for more knowledge on nutrient uptake, more specialised types of fertilizers, and knowledge on the best way to fertilize these crops.

A higher degree of knowledge will be supported by technology based on-site tools and instruments measuring nutrient uptake in plants. Such technology is more reliable and faster than measuring soil nutrient content. These new solutions will allow for real-time adjustment of fertilizer application rates and split applications over the season allowing the farmer to feed the plant according to its specific needs. The supply of services and advice based on the new tools will become part of the knowledge acquisition.

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