2022 IFS Anniversary Conference

Combining Agronomic and Technical presentations

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

To mark our 75th anniversary the Society is organising its first conference that will include presentations for delegates with crop nutrition and fertiliser production interests. As well as a variety of relevant and interesting presentations, this will provide 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 will feature a total of twenty two papers, nine of which will cover topics of interest to those involved with crop nutrition, eight will be of interest to those involved with fertiliser production, while five will be of interest to all. In addition there will be 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 will be viewable as a live stream, with remote delegates being able to put questions to the speakers and view pdf copies of the posters.

The nine agronomic papers will focus on the management of nitrogen and compound fertilisers. They will cover 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, measurement of N leaching from tile-drained fields, and impacts of agronomic measures on crop, soil, and environmental indicators.

The eight production papers will cover 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 will cover 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 will again be augmented by a varied display of posters, while the Conference will host the final of the 2022 Brian Chambers International Award for Early Career Researchers in Crop Nutrition.

If you would like to submit an abstract of a poster that you wish to display at the Conference, please e-mail this to the Society Secretary at the address in the footer at the bottom of this page.

There will also be ample opportunities for valuable networking, including the Conference dinner.

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

To help you with your travel plans, the Conference to start at 14.00 on Wednesday 7 December. Lunch will be available beforehand. The Wednesday afternoon session of joint presentations will be followed by an informal dinner, from 19.00. The popular team quiz will then run from around 20.30. 

The proceedings on Thursday 9th December run from 09.15 to 17.15. It will include separate presentations for those interested in either crop nutrition or fertiliser production, as well as the popular poster session and the launch of ‘FerTechInform’, a new online information resource for fertiliser production that has been developed by the Society.  The Conference Dinner on 10th December starts with a drinks reception at  19.30. The dinners on the Wednesday and Thursday evenings are both inclusive of wine and thus provide excellent value.

The Friday session runs from 08.45 – 13.00, followed by lunch. It will consist of two separate presentations for crop nutrition and production delegates, followed by a joint session which will include the 32nd Francis New Memorial lecture and the discussion panel referred to above.

Delegates’ enjoyment of the event will be enhanced by taking advantage of two ‘lighter’ activities that have been organised. On the morning of Wednesday 7 and afternoon of Friday 9 December, delegates can take a guided walking tour of the historic and lovely heart of Cambridge, whilst those staying in Robinson College are welcome to participate in a ‘high energy’ team quiz after dinner on the Wednesday evening. This is a great way to meet other delegates and have some fun.

Abstracts of the papers to be presented will displayed as they are received, and registration will open later in the summer. 


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

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. In anticipation of the following overall presentation by European Commission on the EU Fertilising Products Regulation, 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.

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.


On Thursday there will be 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.

Nitrogen leaching and nitrous oxide emissions from a Swedish clay soil with contrasting fertilisation to cereals

Magdalena Wallman, Research Institutes of Sweden (RISE)

Use of fertiliser nitrogen (N) increases crop yields and protein contents, but may also lead to N losses, which contribute to e.g. climate change and eutrophication. This study combined the assessment of nitrous oxide emissions and N leaching with yield measurements in five fertiliser treatments in production of cereals on a clay-rich soil. The fertiliser treatments were control (no fertiliser N added), mineral N (two N rates, recommended, and 50 % higher than recommended) and two organic N sources (biogas digestate and pig slurry). The amount of plant available N added with organic fertilisers was between the two mineral N rates.

The organic fertiliser treatments had relatively low leaching despite high N surpluses, which appears to be an effect of ammonium fixation and adsorption to negatively charged clay particles. Emissions of nitrous oxide from the recommended mineral N treatment were close to the control, while all the three treatments with larger N surpluses had significantly higher emissions than the control. In the higher mineral N treatment, the large nitrous oxide emissions were associated with high nitrate concentrations in the drainage water. This was not the case in the biogas digestate and pig slurry treatments, whose high emissions could have been driven by either the addition of N, of degradable organic matter or a combination of both.

A laboratory study on freeze-thaw related nitrous oxide emissions in the treatments with recommended mineral N rates and pig slurry indicated that the organic matter had a stimulating effect on nitrous oxide fluxes. For both N leaching and nitrous oxide emissions, post-season N losses dominated the annual budget. In relation to yield, N leaching was approximately equal from all fertilised treatments, while nitrous oxide emissions were lowest from the recommended mineral N treatment and greater for the higher mineral N, biogas digestate and pig slurry treatments.

This study illustrates that, even if some circumstances, like high N access and wet conditions, in general increase the risks of both N leaching and nitrous oxide emissions, these two pathways of losses do not always go hand in hand. In this study, the discrepancy in responses was mostly an effect of ammonium fixation/adsorption and of input of organic matter influencing the two pathways differently.

This text is a modified version of the abstract to M. Wallman’s doctoral thesis “Nitrogen losses from a clay-rich soil used for cereal production in south-western Sweden” (2021).

Co-authors: Sofia Delin, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences and Tobias Rütting, University of Gothenburg

Impacts of agronomic measures on crop, soil, and environmental indicators: A review and synthesis of meta-analysis

Madeleine Young, Wageningen University and Research, 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. Meta-analyses summarise the overall impact of a management practice by combining the results of many studies into one quantitative “effect-size”.

At the same time, there is the need for holistic agronomic recommendations across varying site properties of agro-ecosystems while optimising various objectives of maintaining crop production, soil health and environmental quality. We build upon an agronomic dataset synthesized from published meta-analyses and design a decision support framework to evaluate the holistic impacts of best management practices across Europe.

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. We evaluate the impacts of measures by comparing expected changes in those indicators to their current levels and distance to existing critical target levels (objectives). We apply a multiple objective analysis to better understand trade-offs and synergies among different agronomic and environmental goals. Furthermore, we apply a spatially-explicit upscaling technique that uses existing Nitrogen Calculation Units (NCUs) for Europe to map expected outcomes of management changes under various soil, climate, and cropping combinations within the EU-27 region. Our analysis aims to explore and contribute to holistic and targeted advice that helps meet agricultural sustainability goals.

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.

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.


On Friday there will be 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.