The population of the world will nearly double over the next thirty years making it essential that food production continues to increase. It might be thought that this fact would allow the agricultural industry and those who serve it such as the fertiliser industry to face the future with confidence. However, in recent years a number of political, economic and commercial events, together with the pressure exerted by a concerned public, have affected the well being of agriculture and the fertiliser industry in much of the developed world and this has undermined confidence. It has also made the planning and marketing of fertilisers difficult and the industry has suffered poor economic performances. Some of those affected have responded by restructuring and reducing both capacity and the number of people employed but recovery is proving illusive.
Such turbulence and uncertainty gives rise to several questions. Could these events and developments have been forecast? If they could have been, and the fertiliser industry had reacted appropriately, would the outcomes have been different? What likelihood is there that the major political decisions that caused agriculture and the fertiliser industry difficulty will be reversed? How will those countries exerting the greatest influence on world fertiliser trade behave? Will the increase in the globalisation of trade and the power of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) continue? Is public distrust encouraging environmental extremism and will this hamper conventional methods of agricultural production? If it does, will the continued increase in agricultural efficiency on which world food sufficiency is predicated be put at risk or will such pressures be confined to a few areas such as Western Europe? Alternatively, have the most radical changes in these areas of concern now taken place? Is all that is required is for the fertiliser industry to understand and accept them and now to come to terms with the consequences for commerce of the rapidly changing world of computers and communications? The answers to such questions will greatly influence management decisions in the fertiliser industry and its outlets especially those involving structure and investment but should they alter the stance the industry adopts towards politicians, a concerned public and, most importantly, towards the marketing of fertilisers? These questions are examined with particular reference to finished nitrogen fertiliser products. It is not possible in a paper of this length to offer examples from all major markets. Some are offered but the author’s experience in the European Union (EU) and especially the UK is mostly drawn upon.
Barry Higgs CBE, ARAgS, Cambridge, UK
36 Pages, 12 Figures, 14 refs.