World agriculture continues to produce without difficulty all that the world population, with its increasing numbers and prosperity, demands. Socio-economic factors are the main cause of malnutrition, not the global supply of food.
The prospects seem to be favourable during the coming years for the major exporting countries of crop and livestock products. Production and exports are expected to increase in order to satisfy a higher global demand. The stock-to-use ratios of wheat and maize will probably continue to decline, with a corresponding trend towards a gradual increase in price.
In line with increases in populations and GDPs, world fertiliser consumption should continue to rise for the time being, but will probably reach a peak during the second half of the present century and then start to fall.
The trend towards the production of fertilisers in countries or regions well provided with the relevant natural resources, will continue, especially in the case of products destined for export.
The world availability of the raw materials required for the manufacture of mineral fertilisers will be sufficient for a long time to come. While short-term supply/demand tensions cannot be excluded, it seems unlikely that there will be a persistent global shortage of any of the fertiliser nutrients.
The more recent fertiliser plants operate with a high degree of efficiency. There remain many old and inefficient plants in the world but, subject to economic and environmental pressures, these are destined to be either modernised or closed. The gain in efficiency of production can, however, may be lost by inefficiencies in their application. A steady increase in the efficiency of use of fertilisers is observed in the more advanced agricultural regions.
The decisive factor in the development of the use of the different fertiliser products during the past 30 years has been the cost per unit of nutrient. The relative agronomic efficiencies of the products have been a secondary consideration.
Research into the development of new main-stream fertiliser products is a high-risk investment and the returns from large volume, low priced commodity products are insufficient to finance such research. Whenever possible, farmers will continue to buy on price.
The conclusion is that, without a major shock to the system, recent trends are likely to continue for many years to come. The major unknown factor is progress in biotechnology and the fertiliser products that may be developed to express the properties of revolutionary new varieties.
Keith Isherwood, Paris, France.
27 Pages, 26 Figures, 12 References.