Dr. T. Satyanarayana

Fertilizer Trends, Agricultural Opportunities and the Importance of Secondary and Macro Nutrients in South Asia

IFA: Can you briefly tell us your responsibilities and priorities as IPNI’s South Asian Director?
Dr. T. Satyanarayana
: My responsibility in South Asia is to develop and promote improved nutrient management strategies for producing higher crop yields and better farm profits while ensuring safety to the environment through improving nutrient use efficiency.

Identifying key stakeholders and building partnerships is critical for the dissemination of improved nutrient management strategies. My current priority is to continue the existing partnerships with the national agricultural research and education systems, state agricultural universities, the fertilizer industry, state departments of agriculture, and others (the seed industry, producer companies, IT and commodity companies etc.). I also work to help share IPNI generated information with farmers in the region.

IFA:What would you say are some of the main trends in fertilizer use in India today?
Dr. T. Satyanarayana
: Fertilizer consumption in India has increased over the past four decades from 5.5 Mt (1980-81) to 26.7 Mt (2015-16). The current average NPK consumption is still low however at 137 kg/ha. India’s future food production target to feed 1.4 billion by 2025 requires about 300 Mt of grain. Estimates suggest that fertilizer use needs to increase significantly to meet the growth in demand for food by 2025.

From January 7, 2015, the Indian government made it mandatory for all urea supplied to farmers to be neem coated. With neem coated urea, nitrogen would become available throughout crop growth and help in increasing crop yields and farm profits while improving N use efficiency. Neem coating prolongs the hydrolysis of urea and increases the nitrogen use efficiency. Since urea hydrolysis is prolonged, the plants stay greener for a longer time, which allows farmers to reduce the urea application rates to their fields. This move should reduce overall urea consumption in the country, reduce the subsidy burden on the government to some extent and promote balanced fertilization.

Potassium fertilizer use is less than 10% of the total nutrient consumption in the country, while evidence of crop K responses are widespread. Large-scale deficiencies of secondary and micronutrients have also been identified by national researchers, which would be critical to manage if food production targets are to be achieved. Considering the current inadequate and imbalanced fertilizer use in the country, there are a lot of fertilizer market opportunities in the sub-continent.

The government of India has introduced the national soil health program with an emphasis on site-specific nutrient management based on the results of soil testing. There has been a continuous campaign on promoting balanced fertilizer use, while farmers are gaining awareness about the use of secondary and micronutrients in addition to the application of major NPK nutrients.

Currently, fertilizer use is mainly confined to grain crops (67%), while oilseeds (9.6%), cotton (8.7%) and sugarcane (5.6%) have moderate levels of fertilizer consumption. Fruits (2%), vegetables (3%) and other crops (3.9%) see minimal fertilizer use. The specialty fertilizer market is evolving in the country with the introduction of water soluble fertilizers, crop or site specific customized fertilizers, slow and controlled release fertilizers, and biostimulants.

With an increased emphasis on mechanization, the right method of fertilizer application is being advocated such as banding, fertigation and foliar application, especially in high value crops. The country has witnessed a significant growth in the water-soluble fertilizer market from 9,600 MT (2002-03) to 178,000 Mt (2015-16), with the use mainly confined to fruits, vegetables and other high value crops.

IFA: How important are secondary and micronutrient fertilizers for agriculture in India?
Dr. T. Satyanarayana
:Indian agriculture has made a paradigm shift, with increasing concerns about food, environmental and nutritional security - the application of secondary and micronutrients plays an important role in supporting this direction. The deficiency of micronutrients in soil strongly correlates to micronutrient deficiencies in humans and secondary and micronutrient deficiency in soils is rampant, taking a toll on the food and economic security of the country.

Recent studies suggest that historical cultivars have higher rates of assimilation of micronutrients into produce, whereas modern cultivars are less efficient in assimilating essential micronutrients. It is therefore important to apply adequate rates of micronutrients through soil or foliar application to ensure the better assimilation of these nutrients in the soil-plant-animal-human health continuum.

Studies on the response of applications of secondary and micronutrients revealed that S response increased from 9-23% in 1997 to 19-42% in 2006 in major crops grown in India, reflecting increasingly widespread S deficiencies. Considering the average response of zinc application across major crops, adequate Zn fertilizer use could contribute to 24.9 Mt of national food production, highlighting the importance of applying secondary and micro nutrients. Better agronomic management with secondary and micro nutrient application in the major crops of India could increase the market potential for secondary and micronutrient fertilizers.

IFA: What do you think are some of the biggest opportunities in agriculture in South Asia?
Dr. T. Satyanarayana
: Our experience of working on-farm has shown the prevalence of significant yield gaps across crops due to imbalanced and inadequate fertilizer application. In South Asia, bridging such yield gaps across crops by managing nutrients scientifically is one of the biggest opportunities for governments to ensure food security and for the fertilizer industry to support them in achieving these goals.

The current level of food production could sustainably be increased through practicing 4R Nutrient Stewardship, the science of applying the right source of plant nutrients at the right rate, at the right time, and in the right place. This will ensure food and nutritional security in a sustainable way without jeopardizing environmental health.

Fertilizer use and nutrient management are primarily confined to grain crops with little attention given to other crop segments. More focus is needed on developing nutrient management, and evolving appropriate extension mechanisms, for the unorganized sector involving fruits, vegetables and other crops, including plantations.

Educating farmers on best crop management practices and improved strategies for nutrient management can enhance crop yields and farm profits while optimizing input efficiency and offering protection to the environment.

About Dr. T. Satyanarayana:

Dr. T. Satyanarayana is Director of the South Asia (SA) Program of the International Plant Nutrition Institute (IPNI). Dr. Satyanarayana joined the staff of IPNI as Deputy Director, India Program-South Zone in 2008. Dr. Satyanarayana received his Ph.D. degree from the Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI) in New Delhi in 2005. He received his M.Sc. degree at Dr. Y.S.P.U.H. & F. in Himachal Pradesh in 2001, and his B.Sc. Ag. from Tamil Nadu Agricultural University in 1998. Previously, Dr. Satyanarayana was Deputy Manager-Business Development & Agri Technical Services, with Shriram Fertilizers & Chemicals, DSCL.