Since plant's "daily requirements" for different nutrients vary, scientists and agricultural professionals break up the 14 soil-absorbed nutrients into three categories: primary nutrients, secondary nutrients, and micronutrients.
Primary Nutrients: Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium
Nitrogen: Essential to Protein
Nitrogen comes from the airl and is a primary building block for all organisms. It is essential to making proteins, helps keep plants green and it a critical component of soil structure.
The phosphorus in most commercial fertilizers comes from phosphate rock, found in fossil remains originally laid down beneath oceans and later lifted up with land masses. Phosphorus is found in every living cell. It is a component of DNA and it also plays vital roles in capturing light during photosynthesis, helping with seed germination, and helping plants use water efficiently. Plants also use phosphorus to help fight external stress and prevent disease.
Postassium: A Quailty Building Block
Potassium, also known as potash, is mined from deposits deep within the earth that contain the salts evaporated from sea water. Potassium is essential to the workings of every living cell. It plays and important role in plant's water utilization and also helps regulate the rate of photosynthesis. Other aspects of plant health influenced by potassium include the growth of strong stalks, protection from extreme temperatures, and the ability to fight stress and pests such as weeds and insects.
Secondary Nutrients: Calcium, Magnesium, and Sulfur
While nitrogen, phosphorus, and potash are the most important of the essential elements for plant nutrition, they are by no means the only important elements. Farmers, scientists, and agricultural professionals generally consider calcium (Ca), magnesium (Mg), and sulfur (S) second in importance only to nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, not because they are less essential, but because smaller amounts of those elements are typically needed for most crops.
Micronutrients: Small But Mighty
The third category of essential crop nutrients is called micronutrients. Plants don't need as much of them as they do primary and secondary fertilizers, but they still can't do without them. Scientists classify boron (B), chlorine (Cl), copper (Cu), iron (Fe), manganese (Mn), molybdenum (Mo), nickel (Ni), and zinc (Zn) as essential micronutrients. Of these, boron, copper, zinc, and maganese are most often in short supply for growing crops.
Enhanced Efficiency Fertilizers
Researchers work constantly to develop technologies that improve the performance and efficiency of fertilizers. Enhanced Efficiency Fertilizers (EEF) are fertilizer products that can reduce nutrient losses to the environment while increasing nutrient availability for the plant or the crop. These fertilizers can either slow the release of nutrients for uptake or alter the conversion of nutrients to other forms that may be less susceptible to losses. Categories of EEFs include slow and controlled release nitrogen fertilizers; nitrogen stabliziers and phosphate management products.
What's in a Bag?
How much N, P, and K are in your bag of fertilizer? The numbers found on each bag or bulk shipment of fertilizer tell the farmer or consumer the amount of nutrients being supplied.
The three numbers on your bag of fertilizer are called the "analysis". It is the percentage of nitrogen, phosphate, and potash that is available to plants from that bag of fertilizer. For example, a fertilizer product with analysis 5-10-15 contains 5 percent nitrogen, 10 percent phosphate, and 15 percent potash.
Fertilizer- A Sustainable Business
Fertilizers' role in food production may be well known, but the role the industry plays in sustainably meeting environmental, social, and economic demands may go unseen or unnoticed. In this area, consumers may not recognize the industry's leadership in supporting and promoting agronomic research through universities and organizations such as the International Plant Nutrition Institute (www.ipni.net).
In order to demonstrate its commitment to sustainability, the industry has developed environmental, health, and safety management systems as a guide for implementing sound practices throughout the manufacturing process for fertilizers that pertain to air emissions and the treatment of wastes, as well as to water use and reclamation of land resources. Fertilizer manufacturing and distribution employees are also educated and trained to measure and continually improve the performance of the industry's environmental systems.
Fertilizers are Safe
Scientific programs have recently been used to quantify the potential effects the use of fertilizers may have on human and environmental health. Spearheaded by trade associations such as The Fertilizer Institute, the fertilizer industry recently sponsored a multi-year voluntary product testing program. The results of this testing initiative show that, when used properly, the 25 fertilizer products that are most often used in agriculture are of little risk to fertilizer manufacturing employees and users, communities, or the environment. The rigorous tests used in this program were designed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to assess the potential harm to human and environmental health posed by commonly used products. Fertilizer data was then compared against EPA and World Health Organization benchmarks for human and environmental health.
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