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If you still don't know exactly what fertilizers are and why they are so important to agriculture, this educational article will prepare you for this indispensable part of growing plants.


Fertilizers are compounds given to plants to promote growth. They are usually applied either through the soil or through foliar feeding. They can be organic (composed of organic matter) or inorganic (made of simple, inorganic chemicals or minerals). They can also be naturally occurring compounds, such as peat or mineral deposits, or produced by natural processes (such as composting) or chemical processes.

Fertilizers usually contain in varying proportions the three main nutrients (nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium), secondary plant nutrients (calcium, sulphur, magnesium) and sometimes trace elements that play a role in plant nutrition: , chlorine, manganese, iron, zinc, copper and molybdenum.


Fertilizers were perhaps one of the greatest innovations of the 19th century agrarian revolution.

Key names

Chemist Justus von Liebig contributed significantly to advances in the understanding of plant nutrition. His influential works first denounced the vital humus theory, emphasizing first the importance of ammonia and later the importance of inorganic minerals. His main work succeeds in setting forth the important questions of agricultural science. In England, he tried to implement his theories in the commercial network.

At this time in England, Sir John Bennett Lott was experimenting with crops and animal manure on his farm in Harpenden and in 1842 succeeded in producing superphosphate from the phosphates in the rocks.

In France, Jean-Baptiste Boussingaud discovered that the amount of nitrogen in different types of fertilizers is of utmost importance.

In the first decades of the 20th century, chemists and Nobel Prize winners Karl Bosch and Fritz Haber developed the process that allows nitrogen to be cheaply synthesized into ammonia for subsequent oxidation to nitrates and nitrites.

Cleaning the soil

Clearing or cultivation are methods of improving soil quality with a view to improving fertility. Plants need different elements. Even the early Celts added seaweed to improve weak soils. But as science improves soil testing, it's now possible to know exactly what our soil needs.

Nitrogen is the element in the soil that is most often lacking. Phosphorus and potassium are also needed in significant amounts. For this reason, these three elements are included in commercial fertilizers, and the content of each of them is indicated on the labels. For example, on a package of Dutch fertilizers 10-10-15 means it has 10% nitrogen, 10% phosphorus and 15% potassium. Inorganic fertilizers are generally cheaper and have higher concentrations of nutrients than organic fertilizers.

Macronutrients and micronutrients

Fertilizers can be divided into macronutrients or micronutrients based on their concentrations. There are 6 macronutrients: nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, often called "primary", as well as "secondary" - calcium, magnesium and sulfur. There are many micronutrients needed by plants which include iron (Fe), manganese (Mn), boron (B), copper (Cu), molybdenum (Mo), nickel (Ni), chlorine (Cl) and zinc (Zn).

Agricultural and horticultural

In general, agricultural fertilizers contain only one or two macronutrients. Agricultural are intended to be applied infrequently and usually before or during seeding. On the other hand, garden or specialty fertilizers are formulated from many of the same compounds.

Agricultural can be water soluble with immediate release or relatively insoluble with controlled release. Many of the controlled-release products such as Atami and BioBIZZ are designed to be applied approximately every 3-6 months, depending on irrigation, growth rate and other conditions, while water-soluble should be applied at least once every 1-2 weeks .

Nitrogen fertilizers

Nitrogen fertilizer is often synthesized using the Haber-Bosch process, which produces ammonia. This ammonia is applied directly to the soil or used to make other compounds, especially ammonium nitrate and urea. Nitrogen fertilizers are most commonly used to treat fields used to grow corn, barley, sorghum, canola, soybeans, and sunflowers.

Health and resilience

In many countries, there is a perception that inorganic fertilizers "poison the soil" and lead to "low-quality" production. However, there is very little (if any) scientific evidence to support these views. When used appropriately, inorganic fertilizers increase plant growth, organic matter accumulation, and soil biological activity. The effect is undeniable, regardless of whether you use the time-proven Dutch fertilizers or more ordinary products bought from the nearest grow shop.

Organic fertilizers

There is some ambiguity in the use of the term "organic" because some of the synthetic fertilizers such as urea and urea-formaldehyde are completely organic in the sense of organic chemistry. Although the nutrient density of organic material is relatively modest, it has some advantages. On the one hand, organic producers typically source some or all of their fertilizer on-site, thereby significantly reducing operating costs. Then there is the question of how effective they are at promoting plant growth. The responses are encouraging. Since most organic fertilizers contain slowly insoluble nitrogen, their effectiveness can be greater than that of conventional fertilizers.

Organic fertilizers also have their drawbacks. As stated above, they are usually a dilute source of nutrients compared to inorganics and sometimes very large amounts must be applied. This leads to increased transport and application costs. The composition of organic fertilizers tends to be highly variable, so the exact. Therefore, large-scale agriculture tends to rely on inorganic fertilizers, while organic fertilizers are cost-effective for home gardens or small private businesses.

Improperly processed organic fertilizers can contain pathogens harmful to humans or plants. However, proper composting of the raw materials used in organic fertilizers will kill the pathogens.

Risks of using fertilizers

The problem of excessive fertilization is primarily related to the use of artificial fertilizers, due to the large amounts and the destructive nature of the chemical elements on the soil's nutrient retention structures. Excessive applications of nitrogen fertilizers can lead to pest problems by increasing their population.

It is also possible to over-apply organic fertilizers, but their nutrient content, their solubility and release rates are usually much lower than those of chemical fertilizers. By their very nature, most organic fertilizers also provide greater physical and biological conservation mechanisms for soils, tending to reduce risks.

Obtaining a wide range of information means not only a more successful business for you or greater satisfaction with the small garden at home. All of this is directly related to the quality of the food you eat, and hence to the health of you and your loved ones. That is why you should not stop getting acquainted with the latest developments in agriculture and always keep abreast of trends and advanced products. Take responsible care of your production!