Chemical fertilizers are defined as an inorganic material that is either partially or a full synthetic. The fertilizer is then added to the soil to facilitate better plant growth. One way to tell if a fertilizer is chemically-based is that it will contain common acids, like hydrochloric or sulfuric acid.
Instead of providing a different nutrient profile, as organic fertilizers tend to do, a chemical fertilizer changes the acidity profile of the soil. With an increased acid level, there are fewer organisms which can interfere with how the crops will grow over the course of a season.
At the same time, however, land reclamation is a top priority for the chemical fertilizer industry. In the United States, the equivalent of 4,200 football fields were either restored or reclaimed through the work of this industry. The U.S. is currently the second-largest producer of phosphate fertilizers and the 4th-largest producer of nitrogen fertilizers.
This creates an overall chemical fertilizer industry that provides 80,000 direct jobs, 370,000 indirect jobs, and over $139 billion in economic benefits.
Important Chemical Fertilizer Industry Statistics
#1. Fertilizer manufacturing in the United States is an industry that is valued at $18 billion. From 2013 to 2018, however, the industry has been suffering steep revenue declines that have average 9.7% each year. (IBIS World)
#2. About 680 companies are currently involved in chemical fertilizer manufacturing in the United States. These firms employ more than 18,000 people. (IBIS World)
#3. Over 199 million metric tons of agricultural fertilizer is consumed each year in the world today. Over 119 million metric tons is nitrogen, while 45.9 million metric tons is phosphorus pentoxide. (Statista)
#4. In 2009, China imported about 4 million tons of chemical fertilizer. (Statista)
#5. Sulfur was applied to 42% of planted apple tree acres in the 2017 crop year, reaching more than 1.17 million pounds. Apples were also treated with 5.9 million pounds of mineral oil during the crop year. (U.S. Department of Agriculture)
#6. 62,000 pounds of Phosmet was applied to blueberries, affecting 49% of the overall crop in the United States. (U.S. Department of Agriculture)
#7. 50,000 pounds of glyphospate isopropylamine salt was applied to peach trees in the U.S. in 2017, affecting 30% of the crop. (U.S. Department of Agriculture)
#8. The fertilizer industry in the United States invested $5.1 billion into capital infrastructure projects in 2015. The goal is to create more jobs, improve worker safety, and help environmental conservation efforts. (The Fertilizer Institute)
#9. 44% of the chemical fertilizers that are produced in the United States are transported by rail on a ton-mile basis. (The Fertilizer Institute)
#10. Half of the food products that are grown in the world today are made possible because of the use of fertilizer products. (The Fertilizer Institute)
#11. Natural gas costs may account for up to 90% of the final nitrogen fertilizer manufacturing costs for the industry. (The Fertilizer Institute)
#12. Chemical fertilizer industry professionals provided over 2,600 hours of training to first responders in the United States in the past year. About 13,000 people outside of the industry were trained in response techniques. (The Fertilizer Institute)
#13. In 2016, there were 2,260 facilities that were part of the chemical fertilizer industry. These firms experienced 1,330 audits, of which 475 facilities were able to achieve certification. (The Fertilizer Institute)
#14. There are 56 zero-discharge facilities currently operating in the United States in distribution and retail operations. To earn this designation, there must be no direct liquid discharge to groundwater or surface water, other than stormwater drainage. (The Fertilizer Institute)
#15. Only 9 companies reported water data in 2015. These companies were responsible for 84% of the phosphate and potash fertilizer production capacity in the country for the year. (The Fertilizer Institute)
#16. In 2013, over 100 million gallons of water was used by phosphate and potash producers in the United States, with most of it being surface water. In 2015, 88 million gallons were used. (The Fertilizer Institute)
#17. 24% of the chemical fertilizer market involved new product launches from 2014 to 2018. (Mordor Intelligence)
Chemical Fertilizer Industry Trends and Analysis
The issue with chemical fertilizers is that they may do more than just change the acidity profile of the soil. They may also change the nutrient content of the food products that are being grow. One example of this is high-nitrogen fertilizers being applied to citrus trees. The fruit from these trees contains lower levels of Vitamin C.
There are higher risks of bacterial and fungi-based diseases when chemical fertilizers are used as well. The soil begins to degrade the micronutrients it contains, which then limits the potential productivity of the plants involved.
Human population levels may reach 10 billion by the year 2050. There is a need to expand croplands and make current lands yield more food. Although Oxfam reports that the world currently produces 17% more food than is needed to maintain a healthy diet for everyone, infrastructure and distribution problems create several tons of food waste each year.
The chemical fertilizer industry will likely see declines in the next 5-year period that rival what has been experienced since 2013. A 15% decline in revenues is possible in the coming years. At the same time, investments into better technologies will create improved, efficient fertilizers that may finally push the industry upward by 2028.