Dr. Oene Oenema and Dr. Theun Vellinga

On future fertilizer demand, the modernization of agriculture, improving nutrient use efficiency and the fertilizer industry’s important role up to 2030 and beyond.

As part of the IFA2030 fertilizer industry strategic review exercise, IFA has conducted a series of interviews with leading plant nutrition academics and industry experts about how they see the future for farming and fertilizers.


IFA:How do you see developments in global society affecting plant nutrients and the fertilizer industry up to 2030 and beyond?
Dr. Oenema and Dr. Vellinga
: A number of developments will affect food production and the fertilizer industry. The demand for fertilizer nutrients will increase and diversify in Africa, Asia and Latin America, while the demand will decrease further in Europe and North America. Apart from the common NPK fertilizers, there will be increasing demand for secondary nutrients and micronutrients, as well as for enhanced efficiency fertilizers and crop production methods that increase resource use efficiency and decrease nutrient losses. The possible scarcity of biomass and of some minerals will stimulate the circular economy and will put much emphasis on recycling, refinery and up-grading. These developments suggest that the fertilizer industry may need to rethink its role; apart from producing high-quality fertilizers, we foresee future roles as a broker and an adviser in nutrient cycling.

IFA: How do you think farming around the world will change in the coming decades?
Dr. Oenema and Dr. Vellinga
: The number of farmers in the world (around 600 million in 2015), will decrease by 1 to 5% per year, apart perhaps from Africa during the first two decades. The dichotomy in the agricultural sector will remain: industrializing, upscaling and modernizing in parts of the world, while in other parts (mainly Africa) smallholder farming as a survival strategy will remain. The modernization of agriculture and nutrient management will greatly contribute to improving productivity and resource use efficiency. The involvement of suppliers, the processing industry and retail will increase. Changes in livestock production systems may be larger than in crop production systems during the next decades.

IFA: What do you think will be the biggest opportunities for the fertilizer industry over the next 12 years?
Dr. Oenema and Dr. Vellinga
:Although the production of fertilisers will remain for decades, the biggest opportunity lies in the contribution to improving nutrient use efficiency, through producing enhanced efficiency fertilizers and climate-smart fertilizers, and through providing advice and decision support tools (sensors). With climate change, the fertilizer industry can have a big impact on mitigation through the enhanced efficiency of fertilizers. Yields will also decrease. To cope with this, farmers will need more knowledge and fertilizers will become increasingly important. In addition, the fertilizer industry will find opportunities in the recovery and recycling of nutrients from waste streams.

IFA: Why do you think the fertilizer industry should conduct a strategic exercise like IFA2030?
Dr. Oenema and Dr. Vellinga
: Agriculture in the world is facing important challenges. A first challenge is providing sufficient nutritious food for an increasing number of people in the world; by 2050 the amount of food needed will be 50 to 70% larger than in 2015. A second challenge is to increase resource use efficiency by 25 to 50% and to decrease nutrient losses and greenhouse gases to the environment by 50%. Fertilizer nutrients play an important role in boosting food production, but also in environmental pollution. About half of the current food is produced with fertilizer nutrients, and this proportion will likely have increased by 2050. Hence, the fertilizer industry is a very important actor and must take its responsibilities seriously. The fertilizer industry has to think about its future role in providing fertilizers and services that contribute to the aforementioned challenges and to achieving the related United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

About Dr. Oene Oenema

Oene Oenema has a BSc in agronomy, a MSc in soil science and plant nutrition and a PhD in marine geochemistry. He is an internationally recognized expert in the field of nutrient management and mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions. His extensive international experience includes projects in many European countries but also in China, Africa and America. Since 1994, he has been a professor in soil fertility and nutrient management at Wageningen University, teaching nutrient management and supervising PhD students. He is chairman of a scientific committee that advices the Ministries of Environment and Agriculture about the nutrient management policy in the Netherlands, and previously co-chaired the UN-ECE-CLRTAP Task Force on Reactive Nitrogen.

About Dr. Theun Vellinga

Theun Vellinga works at Wageningen University and Research Centre (Wageningen UR), at Wageningen Livestock Research. As senior researcher, Theun Vellinga has 30 years of experience in agricultural research, ranging from grassland management, grazing, environmental impacts, modelling farming systems, life cycle assessments, feed chain analysis and manure management. He is experienced in cooperation with policy workers, farmers and industry and is skilled in developing solutions to apply developed knowledge in practical tools for stakeholders. He is member of the Wageningen Agile Team CirculaResource, focussing on providing insight in nutrient cycling in the agrifood system and on developing solutions to close nutrient cycles.