What are fertilizers?


Fertilizers are food for plants: they provide nutrients for plants to grow and thrive.

A mineral plant nutrient is an element which is:

  • Essential or beneficial for plant growth and development or
  • Essential for the quality attributes of the harvested product of a given plant species grown in its natural or cultivated environment.

In addition to carbon, hydrogen and oxygen, which they get from the atmosphere and water, plants need numerous essential nutrients for their growth and health, which fertilizers provide:

Nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) are the primary nutrients in commercial fertilizers.

Other plant nutrients are sulphur (S), magnesium (Mg), calcium (Ca), zinc (Zn), iron (Fe), boron (B), manganese (Mn), copper (Cu), molybdenum (Mo), chlorine (Cl), nickel (Ni), iodine (I). Additional plant nutrients are required by a few plant species, e.g., sodium (Na) and cobalt (Co).

Mineral fertilizer plays an essential role in our food systems: it increases the volume of food that can be grown on a fixed amount of land. Approximately half the food we eat today has been produced thanks to mineral fertilizer.

Learn more about plant nutrients in the infographic below:

19 Plant Nutrients for Improving and Protecting Plant Health

19 Plant Nutrients for Improving and Protecting Plant Health

Plants use minerals present in the soil and water in order to grow and flourish. Just like with humans, if they don't get enough of these nutrients it can seriously affect their health. Ensuring proper plant nutrition by using fertilizers (organic and mineral) to supplement the nutrients already available in the soil is essential for plant health.

View infographic

IFA Publications

Fertilizers and their Efficient Use Fertilizers and their Efficient Use
Nutrient Management Handbook Nutrient Management Handbook