Agri Business

Soil health still far from ideal; excessive use of urea fertilisers continues

Rajalakshmi Nirmal BL Research Bureau | Updated on October 10, 2019

Under the Soil Health Card scheme, introduced in 2014-15, farmers have their soil tested and get recommendations on the appropriate doses of fertilisers. Representative Image

Given Centre’s incentives to urea manufacturers, Soil Health Card scheme has only marginally improved ground reality


The Centre’s efforts to improve soil health by getting farmers to check the excessive use of nitrogenous fertilisers have made only limited headway in the past two years.

Against the ideal NPK (Nitrogen-Phosphorus-Potassium) consumption ratio of 4:2:1, the actual ratio in 2017-18 was 6.10:2.46:1. Although that represents a marginal improvement in the consumption ratio since 2015-16 - when it was 7.23:2.9:1 - it suggests that there is still much work to be done in changing usage patterns and improving soil health.

Soil health card scheme

Under the Soil Health Card scheme, introduced in 2014-15, farmers have their soil tested and get recommendations on the appropriate doses of fertilisers.

Indiscriminate use of nitrogenous fertilizers is detrimental to the soil and the crop. It also pollutes the groundwater: the nitrogen from fertilizers, which is converted to nitrate by the bacteria in the soil, leaches into the groundwater and washes out of the soil surface, entering streams and rivers.

In recent years, the consumption of non-urea fertilisers has grown at a higher rate than that of urea fertilisers, says Hetal Gandhi - Director, CRISIL Research.

But this could be the consequence of a government stipulation that 100 per cent of the production of subsidised urea be neem-coated.

This has likely checked the diversion of subsidised urea for non-agricultural purposes.

CRISIL expects urea fertiliser consumption to grow at 1.5 per cent CAGR between fiscal 2019 and 2024, and that of non-urea fertilisers to grow at 3.6 per cent compound annual growth rate in the same period.

The mixed signals being sent by the Centre may account for the high use of urea.

On the one hand, the Centre has been trying to disincentivise excessive use of urea and other nitrogenous fertilisers in order to protect the soil, and has been pushing for ‘zero budget’ natural farming.

On the other hand, it has been providing incentives to urea manufacturers to produce beyond the re-assessed capacity under the New Urea Policy.

It has also been helping the ailing public sector urea manufacturers to increase their capacity. Work is on in full swing to revive four closed fertiliser plants of the Fertiliser Corporation of India (in Talcher, Ramagundam, Korakpur and Sindri) and one plant of Hindustan Fertiliser Corporation (in Barauni).

These units have a combined capacity of 6.35 million tonnes a year - which is nearly as much urea as the country imports in a year, says Urvisha H Jagasheth, Research Analyst, CARE Ratings.

Besides, the government is setting up a new ammonia-urea plant at Brahmaputra Valley Fertilisers Corporation.

If the intention is to reduce urea consumption, why should capacities be expanded in a hurry, wonder observers.

Even if production exceeds domestic consumption needs, manufacturers cannot export, given that global prices are lower, adds an industry-insider, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Unless the anomaly in the nutrient-based subsidy is corrected, and urea is brought outside the ambit of the scheme, fertiliser consumption will remain skewed towards nitrogen, the insider added.

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Published on October 09, 2019
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