2022 IFS Anniversary Conference

Combining Agronomic and Technical presentations

The Society’s 2022 Conference was held at Robinson College, Cambridge, UK on 7-9 December

To mark its 75th anniversary the Society organised its first combined conference that included presentations for delegates with crop nutrition and fertiliser production interests. As well as a variety of relevant and interesting presentations, this provided unique opportunities to meet, discuss topics of common interest and build relationships with people working in different parts of the fertiliser and crop nutrition supply chain.

The Conference featured a total of twenty one papers, eight of which covered topics of interest to those involved with crop nutrition, eight were of interest to those involved with fertiliser production, while five joint presentations were of interest to all. In addition there was a discussion panel session of interest to all delegates, covering the practicalities of reducing the carbon footprint of feeding crops.

All presentations and the discussion panel were viewable as a live stream, with remote delegates being able to put questions to the speakers and view pdf copies of the posters..

The eight agronomic papers focused on the management of nitrogen and compound fertilisers. They covered topics such as the evaluation of variable rate nitrogen fertilisation scenarios, the impact of increased fertiliser prices on economics of fertiliser application rates, new data on the NPK nutrient content of harvested crops, grain analysis and foliar nutrition, Dutch experience of reducing N emissions from dairy cows using a circular barn system, and impacts of agronomic measures on crop, soil, and environmental indicators.

The eight production papers covered topics such as phosphoric acid production from low grade rock, digital twinning of fertiliser production technology, and advances in the production of green ammonia.

The five papers of joint interest covered advances in improving the sustainability of fertiliser production, the reality and practice of nutrient recycling in Europe, the role of blended fertilisers in ‘prescription nutrition’, enhancing fertiliser supply chain security using DNA tagging, and handling ammonium nitrate fertilisers, and developments in green ammonia production technologies. 

The presentations were again augmented by a varied display of posters, while the Conference hosted the final of the 2022 Brian Chambers International Award for Early Career Researchers in Crop Nutrition.

For those of in the UK, attendance at this conference was worth 12 BASIS FACTS CPD points.

Delegates’ enjoyment of the event was enhanced by taking advantage of two ‘lighter’ activities that were organised. On the morning of Wednesday 7 and afternoon of Friday 9 December, delegates could take a guided walking tour of the historic and lovely heart of Cambridge, whilst those staying in Robinson College could participate in a ‘high energy’ team quiz after dinner on the Wednesday evening.

Abstracts of the papers that were presented can be read below.


The Society is grateful to these organisations for supporting this conference. Click on the logos for more information.


Wednesday 7th December 2022

All the presentations on Wednesday were of interest to both delegates interested in crop nutrition, and those interested in fertiliser production. 

Advances in improving the sustainability of fertiliser production: a review

Stephane Bungener & Maxime Loviat, Yara, Norway

Yara has committed to 30% Scope 1 & 2 emissions reductions by 2030, and carbon neutrality by 2050. Reaching these objectives implies a fundamental change in the strategic thinking, technologies we use in the plants as well as how we operate our plants.

In this talk we will provide insights into how we have organized this work –  the journey from setting targets to the development of Key Performance Indicators and project portfolio management.  We will explain some of the technologies we will be employing to reach our aims, and the challenges which those entail.

Although we are depending on new technologies to decarbonise our ammonia production plants, operational excellence and continuous improvement will also be important contributors to reaching our targets.  The presentation will provide an insight  into our approach for improving our energy performance through operator actions, and what positive impact and challenges we have seen so far. .

Reality and practice of nutrient recycling in Europe: a review

Robert van Spingelen, European Sustainable Phosphorus Platform / RecyFert B.V, Netherlands

This presentation will cover various aspects of the current and potential nutrient recycling situation across Europe. It will include potential tonnages of phosphorus (P) in different waste streams, and what part is available for recycling today and in the future. The reuse – recovery – recycling routes for different nutrient waste streams, including synergies with biogas production. It will include perspectives for nitrogen recovery, such as ammonia stripping from digestate, manure storage, and NOx emissions reductions from waste water treatment.

It will review the various technologies for nutrient recycling today at either full or pilot scale, based on the ESPP’s Nutrient Recovery Technology Catalogue. This covers input materials, current implementation status, and output products and fate of contaminants.

The presentation will also review the regulations and drivers that are shaping the development of nutrient recycling. This will focus on some outstanding questions and obstacles, such as the implementation status of the German and Swiss P-recovery obligations and perspectives in other countries. Also considered will be Landfill tax, Water policy, Farm-to-Fork, Circular Economy policy and other drivers.

Producing High Quality Blends for Precise and Complete Fertilisation

Peter Scott, European Fertiliser Blenders Association, UK

The demand for multi-nutrient, prescription fertilisers is growing rapidly across the UK and many European countries. The paper considers the agronomic, economic and environmental factors that are driving this change and assesses the essential role of high-quality blended compound fertilisers in meeting the demand. New data will be presented which demonstrates the accuracy and consistency of blends produced in accordance with the European Fertiliser Blenders Association’s (EFBA) ‘Handbook of Solid Fertiliser Blending’ in terms of nutrient analysis and nutrient distribution during spreading.

Agronomic trial data comparing the effect on crop yield and quality between standard complex compounds and prescription blended fertilisers will also be presented. In addition to yield and crop quality, the data will also compare differences in key sustainability indicators including Nitrogen Use Efficiency and greenhouse gas crop intensity.

Finally, a new quality assurance scheme for the production of fertiliser blends will be introduced. This initiative, to be rolled out in 2023, is based on the EFBA handbook, will be audited by an independent certification body and is intended to underpin the essential need for high quality blended fertilisers.

Co-authors: Mandy McAulay and Dean Dunn, Origin UK Operations Limited

Fertiliser supply chain security using DNA tagging: potential benefits and a case study

Tony Benson, Applied DNA Sciences, UK

Counterfeit fertiliser is a global issue, with blind tests regularly highlighting the high proportion of substandard product on sale to farmers, particularly in poorer countries. Fake fertilisers cost the world’s economy billions of dollars a year; reduce crop yields and may even contain toxic materials which are harmful to human health. The nature of fertilisers means that it is extremely difficult to differentiate between counterfeit and genuine products without extensive laboratory testing. This paper will consider the use of synthetic deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) molecular tags to “label” the fertilisers themselves, as well as to secure printed batch information on outer packaging. The SigNature® DNA tags used in this case study can be authenticated in the field using portable testing equipment, providing forensic traceability throughout the supply chain.

In this example a unique DNA tag was added to granular fertiliser in the coating drum. Homogeneity testing showed that this provided a consistent method of application, with the level of DNA recovery closely correlated with the amount of coating added to the drum. This uniform tagging performance enabled dilution of fertiliser with untagged granules to be successfully detected. Analysis also confirmed the DNA was extremely stable on fertilizer for a period of at least 12 months at elevated temperatures (60°C).

A case study demonstrating the practical use of DNA tagged fertiliser will be presented. This will follow the full-scale production of 18,000 metric tonnes of granular fertiliser in Europe through to a final destination in Ghana where in field authentication of the SigNature DNA tag confirmed the fertiliser to be a genuine product. This successful trial established the applicability and usefulness of DNA tagging to enhance traceability throughout the global fertiliser supply chain.

Thursday 8th December 2022

On Thursday there were separate presentations for those interested in either crop nutrition or fertiliser production. The crop nutrition abstracts are shown first, with the production ones below.


Precision agriculture: its role in optimising fertiliser usage to maximise profitability and minimise environmental impacts

Abdul Mouazen, University of Ghent, Belgium

The need for intensive crop production accompanied by the recent significant increase in fertiliser prices has increased the importance of optimising the use of fertilisers. Nevertheless, farmers tend to use more mineral and organic fertilisers than is biologically necessary, to ensure the highest possible yield. This over-application increases unnecessary application cost, and more importantly, seriously impacts the environment by increasing N leaching, P run off and gaseous losses by volatilisation and denitrification, surface run-off, air, and water pollution and soil acidification.

With ever-decreasing financial margins, but mainly under pressure from growing environmental concerns, a variety of strategies has been deployed in an attempt to mitigate this problem. Precision agriculture is one of the modern methods to optimise the use of nutrients according to the crop needs and soil fertility. It aims to manage within field variability, by deploying site-specific or variable-rate fertilisation technologies, with the objective to apply the right product, and amount of fertilizer in the right time and place, using advanced sensing, modelling and control technologies.

This research will present recent findings about the potential of variable rate fertilisation (both synthetic and manure) in arable crop production to increase yield and profitability, with reduced environmental impacts. The approach involves the use of multi-sensor data fusion to map the spatial variability at field scale using remote and proximal sensing technologies. Recommendations for variable rate applications are based on mapping the yield limiting factors. Results of both simulation and field experiments carried out over 10 years in different European and associated countries are reported. Results showed, in the top majority of cases, that variable rate applications increase crop yield by 10%, along with profitability, while reducing environmental impact by reducing the amount of fertilisers applied by up to 20%.

It is recommended to promote the adoption of this technology, as current figures show limited adoption by farmers, and the adoption rate varies among different countries. The limited adoption can be attributed to manifold factors, including the absence of a profitability estimation-based decision support system to guide farmers making a decision on adoption..

Impact of high nitrogen fertiliser prices on nutrient management of arable and forage crops

Pete Berry, ADAS, UK

Nitrogen (N) fertiliser prices and crop values have more than doubled since 2021. This paper reviews the impact of these rapidly changing prices on the economically optimum N fertiliser rate for winter and spring cereals, winter oilseed rape and grass. The resulting effects of changing N rates on yield will be estimated. The implications for achieving wheat bread making quality and barley malting quality will be assessed. For livestock farmers, the trade-offs between producing home-grown feed using expensive fertiliser and buying in additional feed are examined. The paper explains whether or not the price changes should affect the timing of N fertiliser applications, whether certain fertiliser product types may be more favourable and whether the management of manures and other nutrients should be altered. Finally, the potential impacts on N pollution and long-term impacts on soil N supply are discussed.

Co-authors: John Williams, Roger Sylvester-Bradley, Paul Newell-Price, Daniel Kindred, Sarah Clarke

Crops as nutritional barometers: “the answer lies in the crop”

Roger Sylvester-Bradley, ADAS, UK

Farmers routinely monitor soil nutrients to guide nutrient management, but puzzlingly, post-mortems of crop nutrition are rare. This paper will review detection of crop nutrient shortages during growth, and how well foliar sprays can correct them. It will then review the value to farms of routinely monitoring crop nutrients at harvest, at field or farm scales, and as concentrations (e.g. %DM) or as quantities (e.g. kg/ha). Critical nutrient concentrations in grains will be reviewed, and grain nutrient data from thousands of farm crops will be presented to indicate frequencies of nutrient deficiencies and the predictive value of soil analyses. The paper will conclude by suggesting that management of crop nutrition should be guided more by routine crop nutrition post-mortems than by routine soil analyses.

Impact on emissions and economics of new approaches to processing dairy manure

Hendrik Jan van Dooren, Wageningen University and Research, The Netherlands

Products of dairy manure processing can play a significant role in closing nutrient cycles and reducing the environmental impact of dairy farming. The vast majority of Dutch dairy cows are housed on a concrete slatted floor. In this housing system faeces and urine are collected and stored together, and then applied as slurry on grass and arable land.

However, new, innovative floor concepts aiming to reduce ammonia emissions from housing enable faeces and urine to be stored separately. Together with slurry treatment techniques (i.e. separation or digestion) this opens new possibilities for a more sustainable use of nutrients from dairy manure.

The aim of this study was to determine the effect of different dairy manure treatment scenarios on ammonia- and greenhouse gas emissions compared to the reference scenario in which faeces and urine are stored and applied as slurry. Through this study, optimal nitrogen cycling with minimal losses and emissions can be determined.

The analyses was done by combining a mass balance calculation, an emission model and an economic model. With this approach manure treatment products content, emissions from excretion to application and economic feasibility were calculated.

The lowest ammonia emissions were achieved in a scenario where slurry produced in a reference system was separated, after which the ammonia in the liquid fraction was stripped and the resulting ammonium free fluid was used to dilute the urine puddles on the concrete slatted floor. The ammonia was captured in a acid air scrubber. The solid fraction was either digested or directly used as organic fertiliser. The lowest greenhouse gas emissions were achieved in a scenario where slurry was removed daily from the housing and digested. Further separation and stripping of the liquid fraction will reduce the ammonia emissions.

Co-authors: L.R. Gollenbeek, J. van Gastel, F.A.M. Casu, I. Huisman and N. Verdoes.

Effective management of grassland soils and nutrient resources for enhancing nitrogen efficiency and mitigating emissions

David Wall, Teagasc, Crops, Environment and Land-use Research Programme, Johnstown Castle, Co. Wexford, Ireland

The effects of soil pH and nutrient inputs on grass and crop yields are well understood and famers around the world receive agronomic advice on how to improve the soil fertility on their farms for optimal plant growth. Interactions between nutrients within the soil and when assimilated by plants has also been the subject of much research to date. However, refocusing efforts towards balanced nutrient supply in agricultural soils is now more critical than ever for achieving climate smart and sustainable food production systems. In particular, emissions of nitrogen (N) from agricultural soils need to be minimised in-order to reduce the unintended negative consequences of N in the environment.

Grassland productivity is highly dependent on the supply of plant-available N from the soil. The N loss pathways of primary concern to society are nitrate (NO3) leaching and emissions of greenhouse gases and ammonia. The effect of soil fertility and fertiliser type on emissions of greenhouse gases such as nitrous oxide (N2O) after N fertilisation is less well understood. Optimising soil pH and soil test phosphorus has been shown to reduce N2O emissions associated with N fertiliser application on humid temperate grassland soils where denitrification is the main N2O source (O’Neill et al., 2020; Žurovec et al., 2021). The role of sulphur and potassium in driving N recovery and by different grassland sward types has been re-evaluated and shown to significantly reduce leaching of fertiliser N sources (O’Neill et al., 2020). New research has shown that N-P-K-S compound fertilisers with higher proportion of ammonium based-N source had lower N2O emissions compared to compound fertilisers with higher proportion of nitrate based-N source (Gebremichael et al., 2021). Overall, these findings indicate that nutrient based technologies and advice are available for immediate implementation on farms to reduce N emissions from grassland soils.

These fertiliser and nutrient management strategies for increasing the efficiency of N use and reducing N emissions on temperate mineral grassland soils will be discussed in this paper, along with how these fit together to improve overall N use efficiency in grassland systems and provide opportunities to tackle the challenges facing agriculture.

Co-authors: P.F. Forrestal, D.J. Krol, G.J. Lanigan, K.G. Richards. 


Aspel et al., 2022. Plant Nutrition and Soil Science 185 (2): 209-220.

Gebremichael et al., 2021. Agronomy 11: 1712

O’Neill et al., 2020. Soil Biology and Biochemistry 142: 107726.

Žurovec et al., 2021. Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment 311: 107319.

Impacts of agronomic measures on crop, soil, and environmental indicators: a review of meta-analyses

Madaline Young, Wageningen University and Research, The Netherlands

In agronomy, there has been a rise in field experiments measuring the effects of management practices on indicators related to crop yield, soil quality and environmental impacts, as well as meta-analysis studies on these reported impacts, to enhance sustainable agriculture. At the same time, there is the need for more holistic agronomic recommendations across varying site properties (e.g., soil, climate, and local conditions) while optimising various objectives of maintaining crop production, soil health and environmental quality. A major restraint in building decision support tools for this purpose is a lack of empirical data, which we aim to improve by incorporating meta-analytical data. In our study, we build upon an agronomic dataset synthesized from published meta-analyses on long-term field experiments and design a decision support framework to evaluate the performance of best management practices under different site properties.

We first provide an overview of our open-source dataset which quantifies the overall impacts of many recommended agronomic measures on various indicators, essentially providing the observed mean of an effect over many fields in different climate zones, soil types, and crop types. We explore the nutrient management strategies in this dataset with several main objectives:

  • Assess how the effect of a measure varies under local conditions
  • Evaluate the performance of measures at meeting multiple agronomic objectives (e.g., increasing crop yield, increasing soil carbon, and decreasing N losses to the environment)
  • Integrate these findings into a decision support model framework
  • Map expected impacts of measures in various European regions.

To our knowledge, this is the first study that, (1) synthesizes existing field data to this extent on agronomic measures under varying local conditions, and (2) incorporates these results in a multi-objective analysis evaluating measures based on sustainability targets. This analysis focuses on nutrient management strategies as well as the feasibility of applying those measures, including mineral and organic fertilisation, right application of fertilisers (e.g., 4R strategies), crop residue management, and use of soil amendments. We focus on several indicators, including crop yield, soil organic carbon (SOC), and nitrogen losses to air and water. The impacts of measures are evaluated by comparing expected changes in those indicators to their current levels and distance to existing target levels (crop yield and SOC) and critical levels (nitrogen losses). Finally, we use a spatially explicit upscaling technique for Europe to map outcomes in the EU-27 region.

A main goal of our study is to highlight the trade-offs and synergies that can arise in these expected impacts under contrasting local conditions and multiple objectives. For example, certain practices may benefit crop yield and nutrition within a season but may indirectly negatively impact longer-term production through soil health impacts (e.g., declining organic matter and fertility levels) or ecosystem decline (e.g., excessive nitrogen loss to waterways). Based on outcomes of our model we explore examples of field types under different conditions (e.g., temperate versus Mediterranean climate, clay versus sandy soil, different crop rotations) to illustrate our findings on the performance of measures. Our study contributes to the empirical evidence base quantifying the impacts of management as well as the optimisation of both agronomic and environmental goals together. We also give an overview of the ongoing development of an empirically driven decision support tool which, based on location and user-defined objectives, aims to summarise the results of this modelling framework in a user-oriented interface.

Co-authors: Gerard H. Ros, Wim de Vries


Phosphoric acid production from low grade rock: three processes compared

Kevin de Bois, Prayon Technologies, Belgium

The most commonly used process to produce dicalcium-phosphate is the neutralisation of calcium carbonate with phosphoric acid. Recently, the price of the high-grade rocks (MER<8) to produce phosphoric acid has significantly increased. Industry is therefore forced to use low grade rocks which complicates phosphoric acid production and decreases the quality of the phosphoric acid in terms of heavy metals and contaminants such as iron and aluminium oxides. Two alternatives processes have recently been developed: the hydrogen chloride acid process and the sulphuric acid process to produce DCP without using phosphoric acid. This paper will describe these three processes and review their respective pros and cons in terms of plant operations and final product quality.

Cooling towers and cooling water distribution in phosphoric acid plants

Jan Tytgat, De Smet Agro, Belgium

Wet process phosphoric acid plants require reliable cooling water facilities. At the reaction-filtration section reaction heat is removed as water vapour from the flashcooler. In the next stage the weak filtered acid is concentrated to a classic 52-54 % P2O5 concentration using a closed loop with heat exchanger and evaporator under vacuum. In both cases, water vapour, along with fluorine vapours are released from the flashcooler and the evaporator, which are then condensed with cold cooling water in a direct condenser. The hot acidic cooling water is collected in the condenser seal tank and sent back to the cooling tower.

Due to the acidic nature of the cooling water, containing traces of fluorine, chlorine, phosphoric acid and 1-2 % solids, special precautions need to be taken while selecting the type and material of cooling towers, cooling water piping and cooling water pumps. Forced draft cooling towers are preferred since the fan will not be exposed to acidic vapours and droplets.

Cold cooling water is usually collected in an anti-acid protected underground concrete basin and pumped with vertical or horizontal pumps towards the various condensers inside the phosphoric acid plant. There are several ways of bringing the hot cooling water back to the cooling tower cells:

  • By gravity via underground brick lined concrete channels towards a hot water basin from where it is pumped towards the cooling tower cells.
  • By pumps located at the seal tanks and piping towards hot water basin or cooling tower cells inlet.
  • By gravity directly from the elevated seal tank via piping to the cells inlet.
  • A combination of the above solutions.

Each way brings advantages and disadvantages at a different cost and must be studied during the early design of the phosphoric acid plant taking into account the layout constraints.

While selecting the number of cooling tower cells and their size it is always useful to match the number of cells with certain areas or number of parallel concentration lines in the plant.

Besides the thermal duty, which is the primary consideration, many important parameters need to be considered such as:

  • Range: the delta T of the cooling water.
  • Coinciding dry bulb and wet bulb temperature, to be selected from ASHREA weather data.
  • Approach: difference between wet bulb and cold water temperature.
  • Water loading: rate of cooling water sprayed per square meter of cell area.
  • Type of packing, to allow for 1-2 % solids.
  • Maximum allowable drift loss rate.
  • L/G: ratio of mass flow of cooling water to the mass flow of air brought by fans.
  • Pumping head: pressure of hot water above the basin curb.

For phosphoric acid producers and plant designers it is important to understand the cooling tower design parameters used by cooling tower suppliers when selecting the optimal cooling tower design for the plant.

Digital twin of a fertiliser production DCS system: development, use and benefits

Amit Chauhan and Maneesh Sankhyadhar, Yara Fertilisers India Pvt Ltd, India

Yara Babrala is a fully owned subsidiary of Yara ASA International and was commissioned in the year 1994. It has single stream of ammonia plant of 2000 MTPD capacity and two streams of prilled urea plant of 1750 MTPD each. The technology supplier of the ammonia plant was M/S HTAS (Haldor Topsoe) and of Urea was Snam Spa Italy. The site has been consistently recognised as one of the most energy and water efficient plants in the fertiliser sector, among the same vintage of plants.

Many industrial accidents occur because of the gap in required competencies for plant operations, a lack of practical exposure in handling process upsets and malfunctions. A high fidelity Operator Training Simulator (OTS) can bridge this gap by combining the theoretical knowledge and practical experience by leveraging the technology, modelling software through a customized OTS.

Yara Babrala was experiencing a high turnover of the control room operators, which increased the need for faster training programs. At the same time the implementation of Advance Process Control (APC) in the Ammonia and Urea Plants meant that Control room operators were not exposed as much as previously to startup, shut down and troubleshooting experiences.

To address all these challenges Yara Babrala decided to implement a Direct Connect OTS for the Ammonia and Urea Processes. The Direct connect OTS deployed supports field and console stations functionality, the models are scalable along with comprehensive training features. The console stations are exact replicas in terms of hardware and functionality of real Distributed Control System (DCS, so that operators can practice in a simulated environment rather than on a real DCS). It enables operators to develop competencies in a safe, standardized, and repeatable manner. The evaluation features provide timely feedback to trainees. The built-in features help instructor to identify areas for improvement during training. The OTS comprises these modules:

  • Normal Plant Operation
  • Plant Start Up
  • Plant Shut Down
  • Emergency operations
  • Customized plant disturbance scenarios
  • Customized malfunction of equipment’s.

These OTS training modules enabled Yara Babrala to reduce the learning curve of fresh control room operators from around nine months to three months. In addition, the competency of experienced operators was enhanced by practicing unforeseen scenarios, plant upsets and learning from others’ plant incidents. Yara Babrala also used the OTS to test any proposed operating procedures (SOP), what if analysis and HAZOP recommendations. OTS now become one of the main and effective training tools at the site and Yara Babrala has achieved all the envisage benefits of the OTS project.

Digital Solutions for Green Fertilisers

Paula Narvaez Montanez, Stamicarbon, The Netherlands

With 75 years of proven experience in the design and licensing of fertiliser plants, and significant involvement in the development and commercialisation of Green Ammonia Technology, Stamicarbon has made Digitalization one of its main points of attention as a way to contribute to reducing the carbon footprint from the fertiliser industry.

It is Stamicarbon’s mission to provide customers with state-of-the-art software and quality services that allow them to control and optimise their processes and systems through well-trained and well-informed personnel. This will enable customers to reduce waste, saving energy and produce fertilisers, in a safe, cost-effective, and profitable way.

This presentation will cover details of our flagship digital products, the Stami Digital Training Simulator and Stami Digital Process Monitor, and how they can help to improve plant efficiency and effectiveness such as through faster startups, less unplanned shutdowns, better process insight and better control of the plant.


Professionalising the recycling of recovered nutrients into fertilisers

Wolfram Franke, Yara, Norway

The recovery of both mineral and bio-based nutrients provides significant opportunities for locally based fertiliser suppliers to better meet the needs of customers, society and the environment. However several challenges need to be overcome if this is to be achieved on a substantial scale. In particular Health, Safety and Environmental (HSE) competencies such as hygiene, product stewardship and process safety, and an understanding of the requirements of regulatory frameworks need to be strengthened. Improvements in these areas will in turn add value and improve the ease of distributing fertilisers containing these materials into the supply chain.

Yara is developing expertise in the sourcing, handling and processing of these types of recycled materials into marketable products, encountering and overcoming challenges along the way. This paper will review our experiences so far and draw out practical learning points that will be of interest to delegates. We have found that many suppliers of recovered materials have little awareness of the requirements and issues. In Europe, most of the challenges arise from implications stemming from the EU Fertilising Products Regulation (FPR). Using recovered nutrients always leads to an extensive conformity assessment, which needs to be understood.

Advances in commercial scale production of bio-based NPK fertilisers from waste streams

Cinta Cazador Ruiz, Fertiberia Group, Spain

There are several lines of development being undertaken by research organisations and the fertilizer industry, to reduce the carbon footprint of conventional fertilisers. Among these is the use of green hydrogen for the production of ammonia, the promotion of the circular economy through the use of by-products from other industries as raw materials in the production of fertilisers, the development of biostimulants or crop development enhancers, and the use of nutrients recovered from bio-waste (bio-based fertilisers).
In order for these strategies to be implemented effectively at a commercial scale, not only must they have good agronomic and environmental performance, but other factors of great importance also have an impact, such as logistics and availability.

Fertiberia’s B-FERST Project is evaluating all these requirements through the validation at demonstration scale of both the technical and economic feasibility of the implementation of biowastes within the fertiliser industry value chain, as renewable raw materials, biostimulants and biodegradable coatings. All steps in the value chain are being considered (from waste generation to final fertiliser product), ending in the production of a novel range of biobased fertilisers at a commercial scale.

The latest results and findings from this continuing project will be presented..

Friday 9th December 2022

On Friday there were two presentations for delegates interested in crop nutrition, two for those interested in fertiliser production, and one presentation and a discussion panel of interest to all delegates.


Fertilisation strategies across Europe: current situation, potential and limits for a harmonized approach

Suzanne Higgins, Agri-Food & Biosciences Institute, United Kingdom

A stocktake study, in the framework of the EJP Soil programme (https://ejpsoil.eu/), took place across 23 European countries to formulate recommendations for harmonising methodologies for delivering fertilisation guidelines.

The stocktake revealed substantial differences in the content, format and delivery of current fertilisation guidelines across Europe. Substantial differences exist in soil test methods and how crop nutrient requirements are calculated; even between neighbouring countries, with similar soil types, cropping systems and within the same environmental zone.

The general consensus from all participating countries was that harmonisation of fertilisation guidelines should be increased, in terms of shared learning in the delivery and format of fertilisation guidelines and mechanisms to adhere to environmental legislation. However, it was recognised that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to harmonise soil test data and agronomic requirements at EU-level due to differences in soil types and agro-ecosystems.

Nevertheless, increased future collaboration between neighbouring countries within the same environmental zone was seen as potentially very beneficial, and would contribute to the European Green Deal Vision. Particularly, advancement of precision agriculture technology, enabling greatly increased nutrient use efficiency at farm and field level through more site-specific and precise fertiliser placement, and improved rate and timing of nutrient application, could be potentially very beneficial. Shared learning in the use of earth observation technology to generate maps of soil properties, soil nutrients or crop yield variability to make interpretations and contribute to decision making tools would be a potential way of harmonising the methodologies for creating fertilisation recommendations..

Comparison of N fertiliser recommendations in different European countries

Lionel Jordan-Meille, Bordeaux Science Agro, France

This study provides an overview of the different methods currently in use in several West European countries to calculate the amount of N to be spread on cultivated crops. The objectives of the study were i) to analyse the similarities and differences in the calculation procedures (theoretical approach), ii) to compare, for several crop scenarios, the advised fertilisation doses (practical approach), and iii) to detect possible paths for innovation.

The study began with a stocktake of the national nutrient management guide of each country (Belgium, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland, and United Kingdom). A detailed guide was not provided by every country, which led us to ask complementary questions to the national stakeholders.

The comparison of the national methods gave the following main results:

  • Whatever the country, there is only one single general method, which consists in performing a N mass balance method at the field scale;
  • Most of the countries have regional adaptations of their national equation;
  • The mean number of parameters is 5, with a variation from 2 (Luxembourg) to 10 (France, Switzerland);
  • The most shared parameters are the equivalence of the organic N mineral fertilisers for manures, the quantity of N removed by the crop, the mineralisation of crop residues, intercrops, and humus.
  • The parameters describing the air and water losses are very scarce and only explicit in the Swiss and Italian methods.

The main results obtained by comparing the doses recommended in relation to the crop scenarios (dairy farm or 100% vegetals) gave the following main results:

  • Doses evolved from 110 to 180 kg N/ha and from 0 to 130 kg N/ha, without and with manures spreading, respectively.
  • Gaps between countries were not correlated with the number of parameters used in their equations.
  • The countries that explicitly took into account the environmental losses did not recommend more N, which confirms that losses are indirectly included in the parametrisation of the equations (e.g. “Security coefficients”);
  • Surprisingly, the amount of the N removed by the wheat turned out to be quite different from one country to the others, although the yield was set to the same value for every country;
  • In the same order of idea, we found a large gradient of availability of the N brought by the manure, varying from 10 to 45% of efficiency (United Kingdom and Spain, respectively);

Finally, the most interesting initiatives stressed by this survey are linked to the implementation of the controls:

  • Germany imposes a double check calculation, with a N mass balance performed at the farm level, with a maximum threshold not to be exceeded.
  • In Belgium (Wallonia), the residual mineral N in the soil after the harvest should not exceed a regional threshold, determined every year in function of the climate conditions.


Developments in green ammonia production technologies: implications for the fertiliser industry

Kevin Rouwenhurst, Ammonia Energy Association, Netherlands

There are now dozens of green ammonia pilot plants operating or under development around the world, and the scale of these is now moving from ‘proof of concept’ towards commercial viability. This presentation will review the present state of progress, updating the presentation given to the Society in 2020, in what is rapidly evolving industry.

The drivers of this trend continue to come primarily from outside the fertiliser sector and represent new markets for ammonia, with the primary one being the need of the shipping industry to replace fuel oil. However shipping is not the only sector looking at green ammonia. The mining industry wants low-carbon explosives; electricity producers want seasonal storage for renewable power; nations with economies that rely on energy exports want the ability to commoditise green hydrogen produced from wind and solar.

This presentation will describe these and other external drivers for green ammonia, and frame the risks and opportunities that this transition presents to the fertiliser industry. It will describe how players in the industry are responding, and the implications of this for the future of the industry.

Practical implementation of green ammonia technology: progress being made

Marc van Doorn, Fertiberia, Spain

Transforming from grey ammonia and fertiliser production towards green fertiliser production is not done overnight. It is a puzzle with many pieces. For each site we have to make a different puzzle and design the pieces accordingly. The required technologies also need to develop further. Water electrolysis has not yet been implemented on a large scale and on our site in Puertollano a 20 MW electrolyser will be commissioned this summer. The hydrogen for this electrolyser will be used for green ammonia and green fertiliser production in a hybrid setup.

The learnings from this new combination will be applied for new projects in our pipeline. The combination of grey and green ammonia production in one plant is not the most preferred solution, but a daring and necessary first step. New projects are being designed to replace the importation of grey ammonia with our own green ammonia production in Sagunto and Aviles in Spain.

The technical, logistical and economic considerations behind these choices will be discussed in this paper.


Ammonium nitrate fertilizers: benefits, challenges and solutions – 32nd Francis New Memorial Lecture

Kish Shah, UK

Ammonium nitrate based fertilisers have been successfully used for more than a century. Amongst the range of nitrogen fertilizers available, ammonium nitrate has been very popular in many parts of the world. It contains fast-acting nitrate and slower-release ammonium, which makes ammonium nitrate effective under various climatic conditions. It is considered to be agronomically more efficient and less damaging to the environment than urea. As regards safety, ammonium nitrate possesses hazardous properties which, when not handled properly, have caused major accidents with loss of life and damage to property.

These risks are well understood and safety measures have been available to control them. Managers and engineers in the industry and other stakeholders continue to face various challenges to promote safety throughout the distribution chain. These issues will be described with examples. Environmental challenges related to the production and use of ammonium nitrate will also be discussed.

Panel discussion – practical requirements in reducing the carbon footprint of feeding crops

Chair: Simon Inglethorpe, Editor of Fertilizer International magazine


Kevin Cunningham, Director New Business Incubation, Yara International, Ireland.
James Holmes, Sustainability Development Manager, Unilever, UK. 
Mark Brouwer, CEO of UreaKnowHow.com, with a deep understanding of the energy issues facing fertiliser producers, The Netherlands.
James Price, Manager, Perdiswell Farm, UK, Chair of the (AHDB) RB209 Partnership Steering Group and member of Defra’s Nutrient Management Expert Group.
Theo Paquet, Green Ammonia Officer, Fertilizers Europe.

Each panellist will make a short presentation on this topic, from their different perspectives, before the discussion is opened to questions from the physical and virtual floor.