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Demystifying Chemical Fertilizers: A Guide

Explore the world of chemical fertilizers with our comprehensive guide, clarifying their use, benefits, and impact.

Table of Contents

Farmers have been using chemical fertilizers for a long time now to achieve the maximum yield. However, there are concerns regarding the continuous use of chemical fertilizers, and many theories suggest that they harm the environment. So before you begin using them in your garden or farm, you should have all the information about them. 

That is why we are here with a full-fledged guide for you explaining the composition of chemical fertilizers along with their types, benefits, drawbacks, and much more. Let’s begin by understanding what chemical fertilizers are.

What are chemical fertilizers?

Chemical fertilizers tell us that they are made up of synthetic or inorganic chemicals to provide essential nutrients to plants. To maintain the health of the plant, these chemical fertilizers can provide nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and other micronutrients in sufficient quality at regular intervals. They help revive the long-lost soil nutrients that naturally help the development of the plant. You can apply them straight to the soil or plant by using different application methods. 

History of chemical fertilizers

History of chemical fertilizers

The introduction of artificial fertilizers and chemical pesticides to farming dates back to the 19th century. An ordinary superphosphate was made by treating bones with sulphuric acid. Immediately after that, phosphate rocks replaced bones as the source of phosphate. 

Potassium originated in Germany in 1861, and it reached North America during World War 1. Its production expanded in 1931 because of the New Mexico deposits. However, the latest potassium fertilizers are more organic than chemical. 

The first nitrogen fertilizer was made in 1903 from nitric acid. However, after 1913, many new nitrogen fertilizers were made because of the availability of synthetic ammonia. The quality of these chemical fertilizers was not that good at that time. That is why TVA was formed to enhance the efficiency of the fertilizers being manufactured. 

Composition of chemical fertilizers

The chemical composition of fertilizer helps you decide if it is suitable for your crop or not. 

The major components are: 

Nitrogen (N)

Essential for leaf, steam growth, and overall plant vigor. It’s a key component of chlorophyll and assists in photosynthesis. This can also help you in synthesizing protein. It is available in the forms of urea, ammonium nitrate, and ammonium sulfate.

Phosphorus (P)

This element is important for root development, flowers, and the fruit of the plant. It helps in transferring energy within the plant and contributes to seed formation. Phosphorus is present in various forms, like superphosphate and triple superphosphate. 

Potassium (K)

If you are looking for an aid to prevent the plant from diseases, then potassium is a good element. It is disease-resistant and helps in various psychological processes like water regulation and enzyme activation. You can find it in the forms of potassium chloride and potassium sulfate.

Secondary and micronutrients are:

Apart from the N-P-K elements, chemical fertilizers contain various secondary nutrients and micronutrients.

Secondary nutrients

Calcium (Ca), Magnesium (Mg), and Sulfur (S) support the metabolic function within the plants, and they are as important as the major nutrients.

Micronutrients

Iron, Copper, Zinc, Manganese, Boron, and the list continues. Plants use these nutrients in less quantities. They are important for enzymatic activity and the overall health of the plant.

Formulations and variations

You can find various forms and types of fertilizers tailored specifically to the needs of your plant and its growth stages:

Granular form

The granular form is applied when your plant needs slow-release fertilizers. So, the process involves a slow breakdown of the granules and provides nutrients to the plants for a long time.

Liquid form

Liquid chemical fertilizers are best for immediately supplying the plants with essential nutrients directly from the root zone. The plants can absorb the liquid form of fertilizer quickly as compared to other forms.

Soluble crystals

A soluble crystal fertilizer dissolves in water quickly, and it is the most effective for both soil and foliar feeding applications. 

Types of chemical fertilizers

Types of chemical fertilizers

Below are the different types of chemical fertilizers:

Nitrogenous fertilizers

Many plants prefer nitrate fertilizers because they have nitrogen in nitrate form. These fertilizers are made by using the nitrogen in the air and hydrogen from natural methane. These raw ingredients are mixed well under high pressure and temperature. The compound formed is called ammonia (NH3). This is just an intermediate product, which is then oxidized to release nitric acid. This ultimately results in the formation of ammonium nitrate, and after that, ammonium nitrate is mixed with carbon dioxide, which gives you urea. 

Phosphate fertilizers

This group of chemical fertilizers provides you with phosphate from phosphate rock. The process of making a phosphate fertilizer is divided into many types. For starters, if you treat phosphate concentrate with sulfuric acid, it will give a single superphosphate or phosphoric acid. After that, it is blended well with ammonia to make monoammonium phosphate or diammonium phosphate. 

Potassium fertilizers

These fertilizers are made from potash, an amalgamation of potassium carbonate & potassium salts. The process includes concentrating potash. It is chemically treated and turned into a potassium chloride solution. This is where you can get muriate of potash and when mixed with sulfuric acid, sulfate of potash. 

Compound fertilizers

You can also pick a blend of essential elements in varying ratios. The combination contains nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, which are suitable for specific crop growth stages. These compound fertilizers simplify the application process by providing multiple nutrients in a single product. It also contains other essential micronutrients and makes for a comprehensive package.

Slow-release & controlled-release fertilizers

These chemical fertilizer types have polymer-coated nutrients that are released slowly into the soil. This can reduce leaching and optimize the nutrient supply. The major benefit is that they are available in a controlled manner, and you can have a sustained nutrient supply for your plants.

Mechanism of chemical fertilizers

Explore the mechanism of chemical fertilizers in-depth:

Absorption by plants

As soon as the chemical fertilizer, say in granular, liquid, or crystal forms, comes in contact with water in the soil, it releases nutrients. Once dissolved, the nutrients are now available for the plant roots to absorb through a process called ion exchange. This process happens via root hairs and cells. The active transport mechanism involves the expansion of energy where nutrients are made to move against their concentration gradient.

It is evident that different nutrients have different mechanisms; for instance, nitrate chemical fertilizers move easily into the soil, and plants can absorb them quickly. On the other hand, phosphorus requires some assistance for enhanced absorption.  

Soil interaction

When you apply chemical fertilizers, they interact with soil particles and affect nutrient mobility & availability. Many factors are involved in this, such as pH, texture of the soil, the organic matter content, etc. For example, soil pH level can affect the nutrient solubility. 

Leaching & runoff

Do not apply too much chemical fertilizer because that can lead to leaching. Now, if the nutrients are washed away or seep deep into the soil, they can contaminate the groundwater. In case there is extra application and runoff during the rainy season, it can reach the water bodies easily. This can cause pollution, and harmful algal blooms can happen. 

Use of chemical fertilizers

Primarily, fertilizers are used to:

  • Provide the deficient nutrients to the crops
  • Maximize the yield of the plants
  • Improve the soil’s fertility and texture
  • Quickly supply the fertilizer and provide targeted application

Advantages of using chemical fertilizers

Chemical fertilizers can transform your soil by providing essential nutrients that plants need to grow and thrive.  

Higher production

Chemical fertilizers are manufactured to improve the quality of the spaces being used for cultivation. This happens because of the micronutrients present in them. They can encourage more yield and help the plant to develop fully.

Soil adjustment

You can adjust the acidity level of the soil with chemical fertilizers. With proper usage of these fertilizers, you can maintain the fertility of the soil for the next production cycle. 

Crop problem solution

There are times when your crop might have a problem with one of the elements, say it is nitrogen deficient. You can fix this by doing foliar treatments. This can enhance the health of the plant and keep it healthy at every stage. 

Dangers of using chemical fertilizers

Dangers of using chemical fertilizers

If you overuse chemical fertilizers, you might face the issues listed below.

Environmental issues

Most of the chemicals used in the making of chemical fertilizers contribute to the greenhouse effect. They also seep deep into the soil and cause damage to the groundwater quality. Unless you apply NPK in fewer quantities, you are going to cause damage to the environment.

Physical issues

Chemically produced crops are not as healthy or full of nutrition as they are supposed to be. The reason behind this is that chemical fertilizers focus more on speedy growth rather than healthy growth. That is why the crops have nutritional value. 

Final words!

To sum up the above article, we are sure that you have enough information about chemical fertilizers. So, you can use them judicially by following the above information in this guide. Begin your farming journey now!

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