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Advantages and Disadvantages of Fertilizers

There is a saying in the world that a farmer is a magician who can produce money from the mud. Farmer is directly proportional to agriculture. Agriculture is growing crops, cultivating soil, and raising livestock. Agriculture is the world's largest private sector, which employs many people. Agriculture forms the backbone of the economy.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Fertilizers
  • Agriculture contributes to the nation's development as it is the primary sector; the other sectors depend on its success. For any nation's advancement and progress, the role of agriculture is unmatchable as iemploysto large numbers of people and food security. The secondary and tertiary sector's success is also vital for the nation's development. The agriculture sector forms the basis of national development. Millions of farmers are engaged in agriculture and earn their livelihood. Farmers are the nation's pride.
  • Especially for developing countries, the role of agriculture and farmers is very important as together they lead the nation's progress towards development. From history, we witness that countries that are developed today firstly revolutionize agriculture, and after success, they opt for industrial development. Countries like India, which have a large chunk of the population living in villages, are mostly engaged in agriculture and related activities. More than fifty percent of the rural population does agriculture and related activities.
  • Due to agricultural income, they have their livelihoods and raise their standard of living. But agriculture is also one of the riskiest sectors as it suffers from many failures like low productivity. Today as the world is witnessing rapid growth and development, technological advancement is very rapid, and it has a spill-over effect on every sector. And this led to the development of fertilizers to increase agricultural productivity. But the usage of fertilizers also created numerous problems for the agriculture sector and the people who consume food derived from this fertilizers-based land.

So, in this article, we are discussing fertilizer and its advantages and disadvantage.

What are Fertilizers?

  • The term fertilizer is new, but its usage is very old. Fertilizers have been used since ancient times to increase productivity. The difference between the fertilizer used in ancient times and today's times is that the ancient fertilizer is a natural fertilizer generally extracted from nature and is animal-based. But the fertilizer used today is chemically developed.
  • Fertilizers are natural or synthetic materials that supply the required nutrients to plants. They are different from liming materials and other non-nutrient soil amendments. The sources of fertilizers can be natural or artificial; they are occupied by nature, or they can be industrially produced. The most important fertilizers on which all modern agriculture practices focus are nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K). NPK fertilizers are the most used fertilizers, and along with that, there are some other fertilizers that plants need for production. There are numerous methods to apply this fertilizer, for example, farmer's spray.
  • Historically fertilizers were obtained from various natural and organic sources such as animal manure, compost, human manure, harvested minerals, crop residues, and by-products of agriculture and allied industries. But with the beginning of the 19th century, agriculture was developed around artificially created synthetic fertilizers. Through dry or pelletized, or liquid application processes, some farmers started using large agricultural equipment or hand-tool methods. The transition from historically used fertilizers to synthetic fertilizers is vital for the global food system. With their usage, there is an increase in food production, creating food security for millions of people. Also, this increase in productivity led to the establishment of larger-scale agriculture industries.
  • With the advent of the 20th century, several methods have been developed for nitrogen fixation. The Haber process is the most notable method for nitrogen fixation, which developed during the world war and led to the boom in nitrogen fertilizer. And in the latter half of the 20th century, nitrogen fertilizer increased tremendously, increased the productivity of conventional food systems, and paved the way for the so-called green revolution. The green revolution, using fertilizers and heavy machinery, transforms agriculture and makes it the biggest private sector. And this green revolution provides food security to various nations, including India.
  • There are numerous benefits associated with using fertilizers, but at the same time, it causes several problems too. The excessive use of artificial and industrially applied fertilizers creates several environmental problems. The excess use of fertilizers causes water pollution, eutrophication due to nutritional runoff, and soil contamination. Air pollution also takes place due to the production of fertilizers.
  • After the evaluation of fertilizers, various types of sustainable agriculture practices are implemented to reduce the environmental impact of fertilizers. With the changing needs of society, peoples are more aware and conscious about what they eat and how they produce. And because of lifestyle changes, the usage of organic fertilizers is increasing daily. Organic fertilizers provide alternate solutions to chemically produced industrial fertilizers.

Mechanism of Fertilizers:

With the usage of fertilizers, the growth of the plant increased. And this goal meets in two ways; the first way is that fertilizers provide the required nutrients for plant growth and the second way is that the fertilizer transforms the soil's characteristics by modifying its water retention and aeration capacity. How fertilizers are also different, as some fertilizers are very important for plant growth and development, and some are less important.

The three primary macronutrients present in fertilizers are-

  1. Nitrogen (N): which enhances the leaf growth
  2. Phosphorus (P): it is required for the development of roots, flowers, seeds, and fruit;
  3. Potassium (K): it helps in strong stem growth, movement of water in plants, and promotion of flowering and fruiting.

Plants require some secondary macronutrients for their growth, and these are calcium (Ca), magnesium (Mg), and sulfur (S).

Some of the micronutrients required by plants are-

  • copper (Cu),
  • iron (Fe),
  • manganese (Mn),
  • molybdenum (Mo),
  • zinc (Zn),
  • boron (B).

Some occasionally used nutrients are silicon (Si), cobalt (Co), and vanadium (V).

The nutrients required for healthy plant life are classified according to the elements present in them, but the elements are not used as fertilizers. The elements containing compounds form the basis of fertilizers. The macro-nutrients are required in larger quantities and consumed in larger quantities too. Carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, and hydrogen are the main elements from which plants are made up of.

Carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen are widely available as water and carbon dioxide. Nitrogen is a major element in the atmosphere, but it can not be used directly by plants. Amongst the fertilizers, nitrogen is the most important, and it presents in different forms, such as in proteins, DNA, and other components (e.g., chlorophyll). For making plants, nutritious nitrogen must be used in fixed form. Numerous bacteria and methods are used to fix atmospheric nitrogen (N2) by converting it to ammonia. Phosphate is required for the production of DNA and ATP in the plant, and it is the main energy carrier in cells and certain lipids.

Advantages of Fertilizers:

Fertilizers are some of the most notable inputs required for agriculture because of their enormous benefits and advantages. Fertilizers are used in several ways and it has several effects. It has several benefits, from increasing productivity to raising the standard of living. In India, fertilizers form the backbone of India's green revolution.

1. Fertilizers increase crop yields:

There are currently 8 billion people all around the world. And to provide good food to these billions of people, good agriculture practices with high crop yields are needed. From ancient times, soils had numerous nutrients which helped in crop production. Still, with the increase in population, the demand for food increased, and fertilizers played a very important role in meeting the demand of raising the population.

With the usage of fertilizers, there is an increase in crop yields. For instance, before the success of the green revolution in India, a huge chunk of the population lived in poverty and could not afford sufficient meals. But due to the usage of fertilizers in the green revolution, the production of food crops increased tremendously, providing food security to millions of people. Providing the required nutrients to the plant's fertilizers enhances their growth, and because of that, it enhances their crop production.

2. Fertilizers enhance plant growth:

As fertilizers are very important components for plant growth. Apart from sufficient sunlight and water, fertilizers are also an important element in the growth of plants. Fertilizers provide all the necessary nutrients which support plant growth.

Conventionally, plants need several types of nutrients to enhance their growth. But due to soil contamination and pollution, naturally available nutrients are insufficient to support plant growth. So fertilizers provide necessary nutrients which enhance their growth. From ancient times different types of naturally available fertilizers were used to enhance plant growth, but in today's times, artificial fertilizers dominate the agriculture industry. Artificial fertilizers are developed in such a manner that they can support plant growth.

3. Fertilizers protect against the pest:

As today world is witnessing rapid growth and development, and due to this rapid growth, it creates several types of environmental problems too. How industrialization is taking place disturbs the earth's natural environment. This disturbance in the earth leads to climate change. Climate change led to several types of pests and diseases which affect plant growth and poor productivity.

Due to changes in the natural environment, several types of pests are developing and can potentially affect the crop. Every different year types of diseases and pests are witnessed around the world. Fertilizers have several elements which have the potential to protect the crops from these types of invasive pests and diseases. Fertilizers not only contribute to the protection of crops against this pest but also increase the productivity of crops too. Traditionally, only some known pests and diseases can affect the crops and can be managed by local knowledge. But today's different pests and diseases can only be tackled using fertilizers.

4. Ensures the livelihood of Farmers:

As agriculture is the largest private sector, it provides jobs to millions of people worldwide. Agriculture is the backbone of any nation's progress as it forms the basis of other sectors. Providing jobs to millions of people enhances the livelihoods of the person engaged in agriculture. It provides income to the people engaged in agriculture, and using that income raises the standard of living.

Apart from income, agriculture provides food security to the people. To make agriculture profitable, the use of fertilizers is very important. Fertilizers enhance the production of food crops, and farmers, by selling these crops, can earn money and achieve food security. Also, this led to an increase in the social prestige of the farmers. Agriculture, income, and food security are directly linked to the social prestige of the individual.

5. Fertilizers reduced soil erosion:

Soil erosion is defined as the movement and transfer of the productive upper layer of the soil due to several factors. Today soil erosion is the most common all over the world. The main reason for soil erosion is deforestation. But with the usage of fertilizers, fertilizers can reduce soil erosion. Nutrients in fertilizers hold the soil tight, making it difficult for the factors to erode it.

6. Fertilizers contributed to multiple crop yields in a year:

Traditionally, a single crop is produced in a year or a season. But due to the use of fertilizers, farmers can grow multiple crops. Fertilizers have several elements that can support multiple crops with high productivity. Due to the use of fertilizers, farmers are now producing two or more crops in a season. And it contributed to additional incomes, raising the standard of living, etc. Using fertilizers, multiple crops now replace the single crop.

Apart from the above-discussed advantages, there are numerous other advantages of fertilizers; for instance, they are cheap, so they do not create any additional financial burden on the farmers. The government also provided several types of fertilizers subsidies to the farmers so that they could afford and increase their productivity. Fertilizers are very easy to transport and store. They are easily available nutrients. Increasing the production of crops and providing stable income to the farmers and agricultural labor led to reduced poverty.

Disadvantages of Fertilizers:

As above, we discussed various advantages of fertilizers which contributed to making fertilizers one of the most notable progress in agriculture. Due to the use of fertilizers, there are several disadvantages too. Excessive use of fertilizers can cause serious health problems and contribute to the environment's deterioration. Some of the most discussed disadvantages of fertilizers are-

1. Fertilizers can cause Soil Pollution:

Soil is the mixture of organic matter, different minerals, a liquid, and organism which supports plant growth. Due to the excessive use of fertilizers, the soil's characteristic is disturbing, leading to soil pollution. To increase the production of crops, farmers used fertilizers; sometimes, they used excessive fertilizers for more production. Soil has limited capacity to support these synthetic fertilizers as they are very harmful to the environment. Due to excessive fertilizer use, the soil loses its original capacity to support, leading to soil pollution. Due to excessive and long time use of fertilizers, the soil loses its production capacity and becomes less fertile over time. In soil, numerous microorganisms are present that support plant growth and are very beneficial for decomposition. Due to excessive use of these fertilizers, these microorganisms suffer and ultimately die. If these microorganisms die, the whole process of decomposition disturbs them and causes several environmental problems.

2. Fertilizers can cause water pollution:

Water is one of the most scares resources on the earth. The largest use of water is seen in agriculture; even from naturally available water, groundwater is used excessively to support plant growth. Fertilizers are used to increase crop production and protect crops from diseases. But when these fertilizers apply to the crops, it leads to water runoff. And this runoff can cause water pollution as it contains several fertilizers. When these fertilizers pollute water and reach the water body, they lead to eutrophication, disturbing the whole marine life. Eutrophication kills marine animals due to their growth and less oxygen available for marine life use.

3. Short-term gains v/s long-term losses:

The farmers used fertilizers to increase the production of crops. As in short intervals of time, it increases crop production. But being synthetic, it has several harmful chemicals which disturb the whole ecosystem. The chemical used in the production of fertilizers can disturb soil health, it causes several types of pollution. So fertilizers can provide short-term gains, but it takes a lot from us. The soil health is distributed, and restoring it takes millions of years.

4. Harmful Chemicals in the food chain:

The basic aim of the production of crops is to fulfill the food needs of millions of people. Today the food we consume is full of alterations. There are certain chemicals used in the food to enhance flavor and odor. Adding to that, excessive fertilizers can cause serious health problems as food intake contains lots of chemicals that disturb our bodily functions. Crops that use excessive fertilizers can enter our food chain, and when we consume this food daily, it leads to severe health problems. Today cardiac arrest, blood pressure, blood sugar, and cancer are very common. One of the reasons behind these serious health problems is that people use this fertilizer to produce food.

5. Agriculture labor suffers from fertilizers:

How these fertilizers apply to the crops can cause serious health problems for agriculture workers. Fertilizers contain several harmful chemicals which potentially damage the organs of agricultural labor. Agricultural labor's direct exposure to these harmful chemicals can affect their body functions. While spraying, some fertilizers get inhaled by agricultural labor and suffer from several health diseases.

Apart from the discussed disadvantages of fertilizers, there are numerous other disadvantages, such as they are expensive, sometimes can be the host of new diseases, retard plant growth, etc.

The Conclusion:

Agriculture is the largest private sector, supporting millions by providing income and ensuring food security. The proper use of fertilizers is the most discussed topic in recent times. We have to shift from traditional fertilizers and look for a more nature-friendly solution. For example, people's focus shifted towards organic fertilizers as it has no serious concerns. We must look for more nature-based solutions; excessive use of anything can damage the whole ecosystem.

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