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A large, modern fertilizer spreader
A large, modern fertilizer spreader
A Lite-Trac Agri-Spread lime and fertilizer spreader at an agricultural show
A Lite-Trac Agri-Spread lime and fertilizer spreader at an agricultural show

A fertilizer (American English) or fertiliser (British English; see spelling differences) is any material of natural or synthetic origin (other than liming materials) that is applied to soils or to plant tissues to supply one or more plant nutrients essential to the growth of plants. Many sources of fertilizer exist, both natural and industrially produced.[1]

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  • ✪ Top 6 Worst and 6 Best Garden Fertilizers
  • ✪ How to Read a Fertilizer Label
  • ✪ What Happens If You Use Your Feces as Fertilizer?


Alright! This is John Kohler with ! Today we have another exciting episode for you. And this is going to be a quick style episode because I know a lot of you guys like things quick! Even in the bedroom! Sorry guys. Got a quick video here for you. So we're going to really quickly get into the top 6 worst fertilizers that you shouldn't use in your garden, and then we're going to get into the top 6 fertilizers that, in my opinion, you should use in your garden. So without further ado, let's just go ahead and get in the list. Number one fertilizer that you should not use in your garden are synthetic fertilizers. You know, if you go to the local store and you see something like, you know, miracle crap or it's something else, miracle something. Or like you go down to a feed store and they have 10-10-10 , 15-15-15, you know, and it has all these ingredients that look like chemical names, right, we don't want to be using those synthetic fertilizers. I mean there's many reasons for it, so I'll just get in to a few of my top reasons. Number one, they reduce the water holding capacity of the soil. So literally it makes the soil poor and not good, right, it's not good, you know. Another thing is that when you're buying this big bag of fertilizer you're paying some money, and what you don't realize is that it is water soluble. So while some of the fertilizer will, maybe like 10% will reach the root zone and reach the plant and go in to the plants allowing them to grow, you know, up to 90% could just be washed away into the ground water, you know run down rivers, go through creeks, you know, dead zones and in the gulf, all this kind of stuff. So most of it runs away. So it's not a good deal in my opinion. Another reason why you don't want to buy synthetic fertilizers is because in 2002 the EPA started allowing companies to basically put in toxic heavy metals into fertilizers without telling you guys and without any kind of labelling, you know. So we don't want to access heavy metals and you know, in fertilizers, you know, in amounts that would not be normally found in nature. So when they add heavy metals and things into fertilizers because they have a waste stream that companies need to get rid of. So one of the ways they could do this is by distributing it over large areas of land in small quantities. But, I don't know about you, but I don't want any kind of heavy metals from industry in my fertilizers. That's just yet another reason why you shouldn't buy synthetic fertilizers. So the last two reasons to not get synthetic fertilizers are because it lowers your plant's immunity. So it actually makes your plants, you know, weak and sick and diseased. It's like if you eat a really poor diet and you're like a flabby weakling and you're not nice and strong, right, that's what you're doing to your plants when you're feeding them inappropriate food. That's what many Americans do on a daily basis by not eating the proper foods either. So don't do that to your plants and don't do that to yourselves. The final reason why I don't believe anybody should use synthetic fertilizers is because you can burn your plants with synthetic fertilizers. If you put too much synthetic fertilizers on your plants, it will kill your plants. That's definitely not a good thing. So I don't want you guys to you know do things that will burn your plants because that means you're not going to be gardening and you're not going to be growing your foods. So it's harder to mess up with compost. I mean, there's virtually no amount of compost you could put on that would be too much, that would negatively affect your plants in any major way. The second fertilizer that I believe you guys should not be using in your garden are animal manures. Now if you get a trusted source of an animal manure that's different, you know, but the majority of the animal manures that are being sold in bags at your feed shops, and you go and get animal manure at a local place, right, it’s from the animal agriculture industry. And you know the manures in this day and age can have several problems and this is why I don't like manures. Number one, contamination. So they can be contaminated with heavy metals because the food that's being grown for them are using what I talked about in the first part- synthetic fertilizers which has heavy metals. So now the animals are eating heavy metal, you know, foods that have heavy metals in them because they're grown with the fertilizers. And then the animals get them with them and guess what? The animal’s bile accumulates. That means, you know, whatever the animal eats it starts storing up in its body right, in its tissues. So now when you eat the animals or when you use it's poo it's going to also have the contamination in there. Which is really not good, you know, and I don't want the heavy metals or other contaminants such as, you know, drugs and antibiotics and all this stuff you know going into you're guys' garden. So the second reason why I don't like the animal manure is because you're really not getting what you paid for, right. Once you get fresh animal manure that's steaming right out of a cat's ass or haith, it has good nutrition in there, absolutely, I'm not going to debate that. But the problem is as it's sitting there, as it's put in a bag, as it's transported, as it's you know set in open air, you know , the nutrient’s bulk dies. So you could lose 50% of the 75% of nitrogen from the original manure or what was in there based on how long it's been sitting around. You could also lose some of the other major elements in there you know to 50% or more. So it's really not a good way to feed your garden. So the major reason why I don't like the animal manures is because of the possible E. Coli or other negative bacterial contamination that could be deadly for us, right. And some of the outbreaks in industry when there's like E. Coli on the spinach or on the cantaloupes and all this stuff, it's not because the cantaloupes have the E. Colis because there's raw manure either used on the crops or raw manure that got water leaked over and the water got washed off onto the crops. And it basically contaminated the crops. So I don't want anybody near family to lose their life due to E. Coli. So that's why I do not advocate using any kind of manure, you know, product. So, the third product that shouldn’t be used as a fertilizer is bone meal. Now this is something that’s very common in organic gardening. You go to the local garden shop, you pick up a bag of organic fertilizer and most likely it has a few things in there- bone meal, blood meal, animal manure, predominantly. Why? Because these things are super cheap. There’s industries that basically create these things, it’s a waste product and they want to get rid of them, so they sell them super cheap. And now other companies take it for really cheap, put it in a bag, put a nice fancy label on it, label it organic and they charge you a ton of money for it. And it's a waste product. So the bone meal, you know, there can be many problems with it. Number one, it can be toxic to your pets. So I have a cat and a dog and I don't want them getting hurt by eating too much bone meal and losing their life or something happening to them. Number two, just like with the manures, there can be problems with it. Like there could be contamination of heavy metals or other diseases in there, you know. Also if you do choose to use the bone meal, please use the dust mats minimally. Any kind of fine particulate is not good to breathe, specially bone meal that may have certain diseases inside of it. The last two reasons why I don't like the bone meal is that it's not water soluble and immediately available to your plants. So I mean if you put it down and expect immediate results, that's not going to happen. It needs to break down over time. So be aware of that. And the final reason is because if used in excess it can inhibit mycorrhizal fungi in your soil. Now to me, mycorrhizal fungi are very important. They colonize on the root zone and they help bring in nutrients in to your plants. And by using too much bone meal this will inhibit their growth and inhibit them from taking up nutrients and giving them into your plants so you can have a luscious growth. So the fourth fertilizer that I would not use in my garden is blood meal. Much like the animal manure and the bone meal, predominantly that is sourced from the animal agriculture industry and it's a waste product of that industry. So it's a very cheap product secured, produced and then resold. And much like anything from the conventional animal agriculture industry in this day and age, things can be contaminated. So the blood could be contaminated. I mean, we know as humans that we don't want to get blood transfusion from a person with a disease because that could spread the disease to us. And much like the, you know, when you're using blood meal that can have disease contamination in there and that may make people sick. So I'm not a big fan of that, you know. It is known as a high nitrogen fertilizer which is a good thing, but we, you know, we want to remember we don't really need that much nitrogen. Everybody just shoves it down your face 'we need nitrogen nitrogen nitrogen!'. It's not about nitrogen nitrogen nitrogen. While nitrogen is an important nutrient, it's not everything. And you don't want to have too much nitrogen because whether that's a synthetic nitrogen that could burn your plants, even you know, blood meal can also burn your plants. So I want you guys to be safe when gardening. It could also have other contaminants of heavy metals and the disease as I mentioned. So the final reason why I am not a big fan of the blood meal is because it can attract unwanted animals into your garden. Now you guys know that if you're swimming in the ocean and there's sharks , I guess there was a shark attack in Hawaii recently, you know. If you go into the ocean and you have a cut and you're bleeding, right, the blood in the ocean will attract sharks and you might get eaten, right? And just like that, you know, the blood meal in your garden may attract unwanted animals and bring them in to your garden. And usually those are the ones that are carnivorous. And you know, those are probably not ones you want in your garden. So I'm not a big fan of the blood meal. Now, the next fertilizer that you guys shouldn't be using in my opinion is the biosolids also known as sewer sludge. Now this is not the same as using human manure. Say like, you know, I use my poop and compost that and compost and make my own human manure out of my poop where I trust its source, you know that's one thing. But the biosolids is different. Because it’s basically, the biosolids are what everybody flushes down the toilet, whatever goes down a drain, you know, in cities and this could be really bad. People could be flushing drugs down the drain, they could be flushing, you know, paints and thinners and all these automotive wastes and all kinds of chemicals. And all this stuff goes down the drain and then they create a fertilizer out of that. So I'm not a big fan of that stuff, and be sure to stay tuned to an upcoming episode where I'm going to film with JD specifically going in to why biosolids are really probably not the best thing you can be putting in your garden. So, you know, they could be contaminated with, you know, bad bacteria, and once again they are a problem with the heavy metals. So the last fertilizer that I'm not a big fan of and I don't believe you guys should be using are basically GMO derived fertilizers. So what I mean by that well, you know, corn meal, alfalfa meal, soy meal are very common even organic inputs you could use to add to your soil to create more fertility. But the problem in this day and age is that now they are genetically modified. So now you have the remnants of genetically modified meals going into your soil. Or another one is Canova meal. They also put this is animal foods, dog foods, and even human foods. So I want to encourage you guys to get away from the GMO foods. I believe they are not healthy for us and the meals are not good, you know, for our gardens. Because I don't want to have anything to do with supporting an industry that is doing that kind of stuff. And by you buying genetically modified meal to put in your organic garden, you know, you're supporting once again their waste streams. The waste product that comes from that industry that somebody is getting paid for, that then encourage them to continue, you know, make those products and get them out to people. So if you do want to use one of those meals, which I think are fine meals if they're organic but not the GMO version, go for it and do it. So while I did mention the top 6 fertilizers that I believe are the worst, right, I want to always encourage you guys to do your best, right. I try to not use any of these things to the best of my ability. Sometimes they sneak in in small amounts but the majority of what I use are what I'm going to cover next in the top 6 fertilizers that you should be using in my opinion. And if I do use some of the other ones by mistake, by accident, or they’re in some very small amounts, you know, I'm not going to shoot myself for it, right. It's not about things are about right and wrong, good and bad, you know. We want to do the best we can. It's like a gradient. It's like, you know, like a rainbow, like the colors of the rainbow, you know. Try to get to the end of the rainbow and find that pot of gold. But even if you're not all the way there, you know, that's better than being at the beginning of the rainbow. So I want you to move your way along, you know. Like, John the only fertilizer that you get at my local store is that bone and blood meal stuff that's organic. Well, I'd much rather have you guys using organic products such as the bone or blood meal than the synthetic fertilizer. But I'd also rather encourage you guys to make your own compost, which is even better than either of the other four mentioned materials. So anyway, without further ado, let's go ahead and get into my top 6 fertilizers that you guys should use. Alright, number one, of course, I can't neglect the compost. So now I'm talking about the biologically active compost that's made thermally with heat. That's the kind of compost that you normally find in bags in stores and it's really widely available. You could make it at home yourself. So that's the top one because this is truly how plants feed other plants, you know. The leaves fall off my plants, off my trees, they go on the ground, they break down, they turn back into soil and basically the plants feed themselves, I mean, in nature's system. And we've gotten so far away from that. So take all your scraps from your garden and compost it to make further nutrition for your garden that came from the soil, right, okay. So number two fertilizer you should use, very important and most gardeners miss this, is the fungal dominated compost. You know, I did talk about the bacterial compost made with heat. The fungal dominated compost is basically a pile of wood chips that just sits out for a couple of years, you know, one and half to three years. You inoculate it with some mushrooms. King Stropharia mushrooms are the mushrooms that you should inoculate it with. And the mushrooms will slowly basically break down the wood chips and turn it into this really rich black gold that's rich in fungal activity. Most composts are rich in bacterial activity and I want to encourage you guys to get some fungal activity from this black compost in there. One brand is California humus, we'll throw a picture right there for you guys. And this is super important, you know. While there should be a balance of bacterial and fungal in your garden, I find too many gardens have too much bacterial activity and not enough fungal. And when you add the fungal your plants will respond. So I made a video, I'll put a link down below, you know, where it says "Super size your vegetables with wood chips and rock dust". And my friends, they are just using basically fungal dominated compost to grow huge vegetables that I've never even grown. Dinosaur Kale that big. So I'm still striving to get some more fungal activity into my garden. Of course the third fertilizer that you should be using in my opinion is something like the rock dust. Now this is just not a rock powder or rock phosphate and all this stuff. What I mean by when I say rock dust is I mean a broad spectrum ground up rock that has, you know, a wide variety of trace minerals. You know, something like greensand might have a couple dozen minerals in there, something like that. And then there's soil humage which might contain, you know, even more minerals. But what I really like is a wide spectrum rock dust, you know, such as some of them called the Azomite , the Gaia green, Glacial rock dust, you know, there's C.B.D. Mineral rock dust, there's the Excelerite, you know. There's all these different brands of horticultural great rock dust that you can use to put trace minerals in to your garden, you know, super important, up to 70 different trace minerals in your garden in nature's amounts. So we're not trying to play God like synthetic fertilizers and just giving your plants maybe three main minerals with a handful of other ones. We're going to give the plants basically ground up rocks, which is what would have given them nutrition a long time ago before we've destroyed the earth, right. So that's really another very important nutrient to add and be sure to check my other videos on the rock dust. The fourth fertilizer you guys should be using are worm castings. So think about it. If nature was healthy and you had a raised bed and you had a garden, you'd have tons of worms in there. Worms go in there and they aerate the soil which is really good. But more importantly they take organic matter, they run it through their little bodies that, they have bodies, and they poop out worm castings. Which are basically super charged plant foods. Now not all worm castings are treated equal because much like us you are what you eat. The worm castings are no better than what the worm is eating. And they are feeding worms a lot of things that make the castings that I mean are not so good. So you want to feed the worms a varied diet and make sure to feed them things, you know, like crab shells and shrimp shells, kind of rich materials, things like insect frass and things like cardboard along with other organic matter, fruit and vegetables scraps. And you can even feed them, you know, bacterial dominated compost and run that through the worms to get even a richer product. So you know, worm castings are really rich in not just nutrients, you know, which they have some nutrients, but they're really rich in the biology. And we really want to get that biology back into the soil. And you know, compost and fungal dominated compost have this biology as the worm castings, and it's super important. So the fifth fertilizer you guys should be using in your garden in my opinion is the compost tea. The compost tea is a really good way to super charge your garden and get more biology in there. Because it's this biology that is missing, you know. When a soil is not alive, it's missing the biology, you know. In living soil like the raised bed soil here and a little teaspoon of this soil, this black rich soil that I got right, there's more creatures in it than people on earth, right. So that's very important and most soils, if they're using synthetic fertilizers right, they're killing off all of this biology because the biology cannot thrive in that condition using those mineral salts basically. So we want to really encourage the diversity and amount of microbes in there. In my opinion, the compost tea is an excellent way to do that. So I like to use the Boogie Brew compost tea is my favorite compost tea to feed this soil, and also the leaves of my plants to give them the biology that are the workhorses that break down their organic matter into the soil to make it bio available for my plants so they could thrive. So the final fertilizer that I believe is one of the best fertilizers out there in my opinion, are the seaweed based fertilizers. So whether that's a kelp meal or a soluble kelp, you know, there's many other different seaweed based fertilizers on the market as well. And they are amazing. I mean, not only for the trace minerals contained within them. Because once again, you know, the rocks were on the land and they got ground down into dust and then the rains came and washed all this dust into the ocean and washed all the minerals into the ocean. So the ocean has a lot of minerals. And so the plants, the seaweeds that live in the ocean absorb these minerals. But not only do they have the minerals in there, they also have different kinds of plant hormones that can do amazing things in your garden to, you know, increase your plant growth and all this kind of stuff. So that probably would be my final recommendation for you guys on one of the best fertilizers you could use in your garden are the seaweeds including the kelp and other kind of seaweeds that are available. So that's pretty much it! Those are the worst fertilizers in my opinion as well as the best fertilizers. Of course there's a lot of other fertilizers that I could not use in this top 6 and worst 6 thing, you know. I like things like the Biochar, I like soil zeolites and I like really organic things that you could just add to soil to build fertility so that you guys could have the best plant growth, you know. You want to try to get away from things that are going to hurt our plants and that are going to hurt us, that are going to hurt the earth, and that's basically what the worst ones do. And that's my criteria, you know- if they're not good for us , if they're not good for the planet, if they're not good for animals on the planet, you know, they're probably not a good thing to use. So if you do choose to use those, you know, I'm not the garden police and going to say, "oh you used that, you're a bad person!' I never really care what you guys use. I'm just sharing with you guys my opinions , and if you guys want to model what I do , model the growth that I’m getting on these amazing Malabar spinach that's like vining up and it's just taken over and I have more Malabar spinach than I could eat in a lifetime. You know you won't want to follow what I do because I do some things for certain reasons. And you know the thing that I want you guys to realize that in nature you know, there's no such thing as, like, concentrated bone meal or blood meal going into gardens, right. You know I really want to get back to kind of thinking how nature would think and all these manmade products that are either waste stream or you know synthetic fertilizers. It's not how nature would work. Of course yes, a cow or animal would lose its life in the Savannah or in the forest and it would bleed out and the animals that killed it would eat that stuff and there'd be some blood , but it wouldn’t be like a whole like forest full of dead animals with blood everywhere. And that's basically what you're doing when you putting concentrated blood or bone meals or using concentrated manures. Because forests don't grow in piles of shit. They might have some shit scattered around, but what they would grow in are the plant materials and some of the fertilizers that I recommended. So I always encourage you guys to go towards these things and move away from the things that I am not a big fan of. And do the best you can, because that's what it's all about. And, you know, once again I make these videos so that you guys could grow the healthiest food possible. Because I've done a lot of research on these topics and I've been growing food for a long time and visited a lot of places where I see the results based on what they are using. And, in my opinion, what I'm doing works the best for me and is the best for the planet and that's just simply the way I recommend to you guys. So if you guys enjoyed this video, hey please give me a thumbs up to let me know. Also be sure to check my past episodes. I have over eleven hundred episodes now, to teach you guys all aspects of gardening. And also make sure to click the Subscribe button down below. I have new episodes coming out all the time sharing my top tips, garden tours and all kinds of other stuff that you're probably not going to see on any other gardening channel online. So once again my name is John Kohler with . We'll see you next time and until then remember- keep on growing!



Six tomato plants grown with and without nitrate fertilizer on nutrient-poor sand/clay soil. One of the plants in the nutrient-poor soil has died.
Six tomato plants grown with and without nitrate fertilizer on nutrient-poor sand/clay soil. One of the plants in the nutrient-poor soil has died.

Fertilizers enhance the growth of plants. This goal is met in two ways, the traditional one being additives that provide nutrients. The second mode by which some fertilizers act is to enhance the effectiveness of the soil by modifying its water retention and aeration. This article, like many on fertilizers, emphasises the nutritional aspect. Fertilizers typically provide, in varying proportions:[2]

The nutrients required for healthy plant life are classified according to the elements, but the elements are not used as fertilizers. Instead compounds containing these elements are the basis of fertilizers. The macro-nutrients are consumed in larger quantities and are present in plant tissue in quantities from 0.15% to 6.0% on a dry matter (DM) (0% moisture) basis. Plants are made up of four main elements: hydrogen, oxygen, carbon, and nitrogen. Carbon, hydrogen and oxygen are widely available as water and carbon dioxide. Although nitrogen makes up most of the atmosphere, it is in a form that is unavailable to plants. Nitrogen is the most important fertilizer since nitrogen is present in proteins, DNA and other components (e.g., chlorophyll). To be nutritious to plants, nitrogen must be made available in a "fixed" form. Only some bacteria and their host plants (notably legumes) can fix atmospheric nitrogen (N2) by converting it to ammonia. Phosphate is required for the production of DNA and ATP, the main energy carrier in cells, as well as certain lipids.

Micronutrients are consumed in smaller quantities and are present in plant tissue on the order of parts-per-million (ppm), ranging from 0.15 to 400 ppm DM, or less than 0.04% DM.[3][4] These elements are often present at the active sites of enzymes that carry out the plant's metabolism. Because these elements enable catalysts (enzymes) their impact far exceeds their weight percentage.


Fertilizers are classified in several ways. They are classified according to whether they provide a single nutrient (e.g., K, P, or N), in which case they are classified as "straight fertilizers." "Multinutrient fertilizers" (or "complex fertilizers") provide two or more nutrients, for example N and P. Fertilizers are also sometimes classified as inorganic (the topic of most of this article) versus organic. Inorganic fertilizers exclude carbon-containing materials except ureas. Organic fertilizers are usually (recycled) plant- or animal-derived matter. Inorganic are sometimes called synthetic fertilizers since various chemical treatments are required for their manufacture.[5]

Single nutrient ("straight") fertilizers

The main nitrogen-based straight fertilizer is ammonia or its solutions. Ammonium nitrate (NH4NO3) is also widely used. Urea is another popular source of nitrogen, having the advantage that it is solid and non-explosive, unlike ammonia and ammonium nitrate, respectively. A few percent of the nitrogen fertilizer market (4% in 2007)[6] has been met by calcium ammonium nitrate (Ca(NO3)2 · NH4NO3 · 10H2O).

The main straight phosphate fertilizers are the superphosphates. "Single superphosphate" (SSP) consists of 14–18% P2O5, again in the form of Ca(H2PO4)2, but also phosphogypsum (CaSO4 · 2H2O). Triple superphosphate (TSP) typically consists of 44-48% of P2O5 and no gypsum. A mixture of single superphosphate and triple superphosphate is called double superphosphate. More than 90% of a typical superphosphate fertilizer is water-soluble.

The main potassium-based straight fertilizer is Muriate of Potash (MOP). Muriate of Potash consists of 95-99% KCl, and is typically available as 0-0-60 or 0-0-62 fertilizer.

Multinutrient fertilizers

These fertilizers are common. They consist of two or more nutrient components.

Binary (NP, NK, PK) fertilizers

Major two-component fertilizers provide both nitrogen and phosphorus to the plants. These are called NP fertilizers. The main NP fertilizers are monoammonium phosphate (MAP) and diammonium phosphate (DAP). The active ingredient in MAP is NH4H2PO4. The active ingredient in DAP is (NH4)2HPO4. About 85% of MAP and DAP fertilizers are soluble in water.

NPK fertilizers

NPK fertilizers are three-component fertilizers providing nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.

NPK rating is a rating system describing the amount of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium in a fertilizer. NPK ratings consist of three numbers separated by dashes (e.g., 10-10-10 or 16-4-8) describing the chemical content of fertilizers.[7][8] The first number represents the percentage of nitrogen in the product; the second number, P2O5; the third, K2O. Fertilizers do not actually contain P2O5 or K2O, but the system is a conventional shorthand for the amount of the phosphorus (P) or potassium (K) in a fertilizer. A 50-pound (23 kg) bag of fertilizer labeled 16-4-8 contains 8 lb (3.6 kg) of nitrogen (16% of the 50 pounds), an amount of phosphorus equivalent to that in 2 pounds of P2O5 (4% of 50 pounds), and 4 pounds of K2O (8% of 50 pounds). Most fertilizers are labeled according to this N-P-K convention, although Australian convention, following an N-P-K-S system, adds a fourth number for sulfur, and uses elemental values for all values including P and K.[9]


The main micronutrients are molybdenum, zinc, boron, and copper. These elements are provided as water-soluble salts. Iron presents special problems because it converts to insoluble (bio-unavailable) compounds at moderate soil pH and phosphate concentrations. For this reason, iron is often administered as a chelate complex, e.g., the EDTA derivative. The micronutrient needs depend on the plant and the environment. For example, sugar beets appear to require boron, and legumes require cobalt[1], while environmental conditions such as heat or drought make boron less available for plants.[10]


Nitrogen fertilizers

Top users of nitrogen-based fertilizer[11]
Country Total N use

(Mt pa)

Amt. used for feed/pasture

(Mt pa)

China 18.7 3.0
India 11.9 N/A[12]
U.S. 9.1 4.7
France 2.5 1.3
Germany 2.0 1.2
Brazil 1.7 0.7
Canada 1.6 0.9
Turkey 1.5 0.3
UK 1.3 0.9
Mexico 1.3 0.3
Spain 1.2 0.5
Argentina 0.4 0.1

Nitrogen fertilizers are made from ammonia (NH3), which is sometimes injected into the ground directly. The ammonia is produced by the Haber-Bosch process.[6] In this energy-intensive process, natural gas (CH4) usually supplies the hydrogen, and the nitrogen (N2) is derived from the air. This ammonia is used as a feedstock for all other nitrogen fertilizers, such as anhydrous ammonium nitrate (NH4NO3) and urea (CO(NH2)2).

Deposits of sodium nitrate (NaNO3) (Chilean saltpeter) are also found in the Atacama desert in Chile and was one of the original (1830) nitrogen-rich fertilizers used.[13] It is still mined for fertilizer.[14] Nitrates are also produced from ammonia by the Ostwald process.

Phosphate fertilizers

All phosphate fertilizers are obtained by extraction from minerals containing the anion PO43−. In rare cases, fields are treated with the crushed mineral, but most often more soluble salts are produced by chemical treatment of phosphate minerals. The most popular phosphate-containing minerals are referred to collectively as phosphate rock. The main minerals are fluorapatite Ca5(PO4)3F (CFA) and hydroxyapatite Ca5(PO4)3OH. These minerals are converted to water-soluble phosphate salts by treatment with sulfuric (H2SO4) or phosphoric acids (H3PO4). The large production of sulfuric acid as an industrial chemical is primarily due to its use as cheap acid in processing phosphate rock into phosphate fertilizer. The global primary uses for both sulfur and phosphorus compounds relate to this basic process.

In the nitrophosphate process or Odda process (invented in 1927), phosphate rock with up to a 20% phosphorus (P) content is dissolved with nitric acid (HNO3) to produce a mixture of phosphoric acid (H3PO4) and calcium nitrate (Ca(NO3)2). This mixture can be combined with a potassium fertilizer to produce a compound fertilizer with the three macronutrients N, P and K in easily dissolved form.[15]

Potassium fertilizers

Potash is a mixture of potassium minerals used to make potassium (chemical symbol: K) fertilizers. Potash is soluble in water, so the main effort in producing this nutrient from the ore involves some purification steps; e.g., to remove sodium chloride (NaCl) (common salt). Sometimes potash is referred to as K2O, as a matter of convenience to those describing the potassium content. In fact, potash fertilizers are usually potassium chloride, potassium sulfate, potassium carbonate, or potassium nitrate.[16]

Compound fertilizers

Compound fertilizers, which contain N, P, and K, can often be produced by mixing straight fertilizers. In some cases, chemical reactions occur between the two or more components. For example, monoammonium and diammonium phosphates, which provide plants with both N and P, are produced by neutralizing phosphoric acid (from phosphate rock) and ammonia :

NH3 + H3PO4 → (NH4)H2PO4
2 NH3 + H3PO4 → (NH4)2HPO4

Organic fertilizers

Compost bin for small-scale production of organic fertilizer
Compost bin for small-scale production of organic fertilizer
A large commercial compost operation
A large commercial compost operation

Organic fertilizers” can describe those fertilizers with an organic — biologic — origin—that is, fertilizers derived from living or formerly living materials. Organic fertilizers can also describe commercially available and frequently packaged products that strive to follow the expectations and restrictions adopted by “organic agriculture” and ”environmentally friendly" gardening — related systems of food and plant production that significantly limit or strictly avoid the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. The “organic fertilizer” products typically contain both some organic materials as well as acceptable additives such as nutritive rock powders, ground sea shells (crab, oyster, etc.), other prepared products such as seed meal or kelp, and cultivated microorganisms and derivatives.

Fertilizers of an organic origin (the first definition) include animal wastes, plant wastes from agriculture, compost, and treated sewage sludge (biosolids). Beyond manures, animal sources can include products from the slaughter of animals — bloodmeal, bone meal, feather meal, hides, hoofs, and horns all are typical components.[2] Organically derived materials available to industry such as sewage sludge may not be acceptable components of organic farming and gardening, because of factors ranging from residual contaminants to public perception. On the other hand, marketed “organic fertilizers” may include, and promote, processed organics because the materials have consumer appeal. No matter the definition nor composition, most of these products contain less concentrated nutrients, and the nutrients are not as easily quantified. They can offer soil-building advantages as well as be appealing to those who are trying to farm / garden more “naturally”.[17]

In terms of volume, peat is the most widely used packaged organic soil amendment. It is an immature form of coal and improves the soil by aeration and absorbing water but confers no nutritional value to the plants. It is therefore not a fertilizer as defined in the beginning of the article, but rather an amendment. Coir, (derived from coconut husks), bark, and sawdust when added to soil all act similarly (but not identically) to peat and are also considered organic soil amendments - or texturizers - because of their limited nutritive inputs. Some organic additives can have a reverse effect on nutrients — fresh sawdust can consume soil nutrients as it breaks down, and may lower soil pH — but these same organic texturizers (as well as compost, etc.) may increase the availability of nutrients through improved cation exchange, or through increased growth of microorganisms that in turn increase availability of certain plant nutrients. Organic fertilizers such as composts and manures may be distributed locally without going into industry production, making actual consumption more difficult to quantify.


Fertilizers are commonly used for growing all crops, with application rates depending on the soil fertility, usually as measured by a soil test and according to the particular crop. Legumes, for example, fix nitrogen from the atmosphere and generally do not require nitrogen fertilizer.

Liquid vs solid

Fertilizers are applied to crops both as solids and as liquid. About 90% of fertilizers are applied as solids. The most widely used solid inorganic fertilizers are urea, diammonium phosphate and potassium chloride.[18] Solid fertilizer is typically granulated or powdered. Often solids are available as prills, a solid globule. Liquid fertilizers comprise anhydrous ammonia, aqueous solutions of ammonia, aqueous solutions of ammonium nitrate or urea. These concentrated products may be diluted with water to form a concentrated liquid fertilizer (e.g., UAN). Advantages of liquid fertilizer are its more rapid effect and easier coverage.[2] The addition of fertilizer to irrigation water is called "fertigation".[16]

Slow- and controlled-release fertilizers

Slow- and controlled-release involve only 0.15% (562,000 tons) of the fertilizer market (1995). Their utility stems from the fact that fertilizers are subject to antagonistic processes. In addition to their providing the nutrition to plants, excess fertilizers can be poisonous to the same plant. Competitive with the uptake by plants is the degradation or loss of the fertilizer. Microbes degrade many fertilizers, e.g., by immobilization or oxidation. Furthermore, fertilizers are lost by evaporation or leaching. Most slow-release fertilizers are derivatives of urea, a straight fertilizer providing nitrogen. Isobutylidenediurea ("IBDU") and urea-formaldehyde slowly convert in the soil to free urea, which is rapidly uptaken by plants. IBDU is a single compound with the formula (CH3)2CHCH(NHC(O)NH2)2 whereas the urea-formaldehydes consist of mixtures of the approximate formula (HOCH2NHC(O)NH)nCH2.

Besides being more efficient in the utilization of the applied nutrients, slow-release technologies also reduce the impact on the environment and the contamination of the subsurface water.[19] Slow-release fertilizers (various forms including fertilizer spikes, tabs, etc.) which reduce the problem of "burning" the plants due to excess nitrogen. Polymer coating of fertilizer ingredients gives tablets and spikes a 'true time-release' or 'staged nutrient release' (SNR) of fertilizer nutrients.

Controlled release fertilizers are traditional fertilizers encapsulated in a shell that degrades at a specified rate. Sulfur is a typical encapsulation material. Other coated products use thermoplastics (and sometimes ethylene-vinyl acetate and surfactants, etc.) to produce diffusion-controlled release of urea or other fertilizers. "Reactive Layer Coating" can produce thinner, hence cheaper, membrane coatings by applying reactive monomers simultaneously to the soluble particles. "Multicote" is a process applying layers of low-cost fatty acid salts with a paraffin topcoat.

Foliar application

Foliar fertilizers are applied directly to leaves. The method is almost invariably used to apply water-soluble straight nitrogen fertilizers and used especially for high value crops such as fruits.[2]

Fertilizer burn
Fertilizer burn

Chemicals that affect nitrogen uptake

Various chemicals are used to enhance the efficiency of nitrogen-based fertilizers. In this way farmers can limit the polluting effects of nitrogen run-off. Nitrification inhibitors (also known as nitrogen stabilizers) suppress the conversion of ammonia into nitrate, an anion that is more prone to leaching. 1-Carbamoyl-3-methylpyrazole (CMP), dicyandiamide, nitrapyrin (2-chloro-6-trichloromethylpyridine) and 3,4-Dimethylpyrazole phosphate (DMPP) are popular.[20] Urease inhibitors are used to slow the hydrolytic conversion of urea into ammonia, which is prone to evaporation as well as nitrification. The conversion of urea to ammonia catalyzed by enzymes called ureases. A popular inhibitor of ureases is N-(n-butyl)thiophosphoric triamide (NBPT).


Careful fertilization technologies are important because excess nutrients can be detrimental.[21] Fertilizer burn can occur when too much fertilizer is applied, resulting in damage or even death of the plant. Fertilizers vary in their tendency to burn roughly in accordance with their salt index.[22][23]


Recently nitrogen fertilizers have plateaued in most developed countries. China although has become the largest producer and consumer of nitrogen fertilizers.[24] Africa has little reliance on nitrogen fertilizers.[25] Agricultural and chemical minerals are very important in industrial use of fertilizers, which is valued at approximately $200 billion.[26] Nitrogen has a significant impact in the global mineral use, followed by potash and phosphate. The production of nitrogen has drastically increased since the 1960s. Phosphate and potash have increased in price since the 1960s, which is larger than the consumer price index.[26] Potash is produced in Canada, Russia and Belarus, together making up over half of the world production.[26] Potash production in Canada rose in 2017 and 2018 by 18.6%.[27] Conservative estimates report 30 to 50% of crop yields are attributed to natural or synthetic commercial fertilizer.[16][28] Fertilizer consumption has surpassed the amount of farmland in the United States[26]. Global market value is likely to rise to more than US$185 billion until 2019.[29] The European fertilizer market will grow to earn revenues of approx. €15.3 billion in 2018.[30]

Data on the fertilizer consumption per hectare arable land in 2012 are published by The World Bank.[31] For the diagram below values of the European Union (EU) countries have been extracted and are presented as kilograms per hectare (pounds per acre). The total consumption of fertilizer in the EU is 15.9 million tons for 105 million hectare arable land area[32] (or 107 million hectare arable land according to another estimate[33]). This figure equates to 151 kg of fertilizers consumed per ha arable land on average for the EU countries.

The diagram displays the statistics of fertilizer consumption in western and central European counties from data published by The World Bank for 2012.

Environmental effects

Runoff of soil and fertilizer during a rain storm
Runoff of soil and fertilizer during a rain storm

Use of fertilizers are beneficial in providing nutrients to plants although they have some negative environmental effects. The large growing consumption of fertilizers can affect soil, surface water, and groundwater due to dispersion of mineral use.[26] It is important to be aware of the environmental effects in order to use them sparingly.


Phosphorus and nitrogen fertilizers when commonly used have major environmental effects. This is due to high rainfalls causing the fertilizers to be washed into waterways.[34] Agricultural run-off is a major contributor to the eutrophication of fresh water bodies. For example, in the US, about half of all the lakes are eutrophic. The main contributor to eutrophication is phosphate, which is normally a limiting nutrient; high concentrations promote the growth of cyanobacteria and algae, the demise of which consumes oxygen.[35] Cyanobacteria blooms ('algal blooms') can also produce harmful toxins that can accumulate in the food chain, and can be harmful to humans.[36][37]

The nitrogen-rich compounds found in fertilizer runoff are the primary cause of serious oxygen depletion in many parts of oceans, especially in coastal zones, lakes and rivers. The resulting lack of dissolved oxygen greatly reduces the ability of these areas to sustain oceanic fauna.[38] The number of oceanic dead zones near inhabited coastlines are increasing.[39] As of 2006, the application of nitrogen fertilizer is being increasingly controlled in northwestern Europe[40] and the United States.[41][42] If eutrophication can be reversed, it may take decades[citation needed] before the accumulated nitrates in groundwater can be broken down by natural processes.

Nitrate pollution

Only a fraction of the nitrogen-based fertilizers is converted to plant matter. The remainder accumulates in the soil or is lost as run-off.[43] High application rates of nitrogen-containing fertilizers combined with the high water solubility of nitrate leads to increased runoff into surface water as well as leaching into groundwater, thereby causing groundwater pollution.[44][45][46] The excessive use of nitrogen-containing fertilizers (be they synthetic or natural) is particularly damaging, as much of the nitrogen that is not taken up by plants is transformed into nitrate which is easily leached.[47]

Nitrate levels above 10 mg/L (10 ppm) in groundwater can cause 'blue baby syndrome' (acquired methemoglobinemia).[48] The nutrients, especially nitrates, in fertilizers can cause problems for natural habitats and for human health if they are washed off soil into watercourses or leached through soil into groundwater.[citation needed]



Nitrogen-containing fertilizers can cause soil acidification when added.[49][50] This may lead to decrease in nutrient availability which may be offset by liming.

Accumulation of toxic elements


The concentration of cadmium in phosphorus-containing fertilizers varies considerably and can be problematic.[51] For example, mono-ammonium phosphate fertilizer may have a cadmium content of as low as 0.14 mg/kg or as high as 50.9 mg/kg.[52] The phosphate rock used in their manufacture can contain as much as 188 mg/kg cadmium[53] (examples are deposits on Nauru[54] and the Christmas islands[55]). Continuous use of high-cadmium fertilizer can contaminate soil (as shown in New Zealand)[56] and plants.[57] Limits to the cadmium content of phosphate fertilizers has been considered by the European Commission.[58][59][60] Producers of phosphorus-containing fertilizers now select phosphate rock based on the cadmium content.[35]


Phosphate rocks contain high levels of fluoride. Consequently, the widespread use of phosphate fertilizers has increased soil fluoride concentrations.[57] It has been found that food contamination from fertilizer is of little concern as plants accumulate little fluoride from the soil; of greater concern is the possibility of fluoride toxicity to livestock that ingest contaminated soils.[61][62] Also of possible concern are the effects of fluoride on soil microorganisms.[61][62][63]

Radioactive elements

The radioactive content of the fertilizers varies considerably and depends both on their concentrations in the parent mineral and on the fertilizer production process.[57][64] Uranium-238 concentrations can range from 7 to 100 pCi/g in phosphate rock[65] and from 1 to 67 pCi/g in phosphate fertilizers.[66][67][68] Where high annual rates of phosphorus fertilizer are used, this can result in uranium-238 concentrations in soils and drainage waters that are several times greater than are normally present.[67][69] However, the impact of these increases on the risk to human health from radinuclide contamination of foods is very small (less than 0.05 mSv/y).[67][70][71]

Other metals

Steel industry wastes, recycled into fertilizers for their high levels of zinc (essential to plant growth), wastes can include the following toxic metals: lead[72] arsenic, cadmium,[72] chromium, and nickel. The most common toxic elements in this type of fertilizer are mercury, lead, and arsenic.[73][74][75] These potentially harmful impurities can be removed; however, this significantly increases cost. Highly pure fertilizers are widely available and perhaps best known as the highly water-soluble fertilizers containing blue dyes used around households, such as Miracle-Gro. These highly water-soluble fertilizers are used in the plant nursery business and are available in larger packages at significantly less cost than retail quantities. Some inexpensive retail granular garden fertilizers are made with high purity ingredients.

Trace mineral depletion

Attention has been addressed to the decreasing concentrations of elements such as iron, zinc, copper and magnesium in many foods over the last 50–60 years.[76][77] Intensive farming practices, including the use of synthetic fertilizers are frequently suggested as reasons for these declines and organic farming is often suggested as a solution.[77] Although improved crop yields resulting from NPK fertilizers are known to dilute the concentrations of other nutrients in plants,[76][78] much of the measured decline can be attributed to the use of progressively higher-yielding crop varieties which produce foods with lower mineral concentrations than their less productive ancestors.[76][79][80] It is, therefore, unlikely that organic farming or reduced use of fertilizers will solve the problem; foods with high nutrient density are posited to be achieved using older, lower-yielding varieties or the development of new high-yield, nutrient-dense varieties.[76][81]

Fertilizers are, in fact, more likely to solve trace mineral deficiency problems than cause them: In Western Australia deficiencies of zinc, copper, manganese, iron and molybdenum were identified as limiting the growth of broad-acre crops and pastures in the 1940s and 1950s.[82] Soils in Western Australia are very old, highly weathered and deficient in many of the major nutrients and trace elements.[82] Since this time these trace elements are routinely added to fertilizers used in agriculture in this state.[82] Many other soils around the world are deficient in zinc, leading to deficiency in both plants and humans, and zinc fertilizers are widely used to solve this problem.[83]

Changes in soil biology

High levels of fertilizer may cause the breakdown of the symbiotic relationships between plant roots and mycorrhizal fungi.[84]

Energy consumption and sustainability

In the US in 2004, 317 billion cubic feet of natural gas were consumed in the industrial production of ammonia, less than 1.5% of total U.S. annual consumption of natural gas.[85] A 2002 report suggested that the production of ammonia consumes about 5% of global natural gas consumption, which is somewhat under 2% of world energy production.[86]

Ammonia is produced from natural gas and air.[87] The cost of natural gas makes up about 90% of the cost of producing ammonia.[88] The increase in price of natural gases over the past decade, along with other factors such as increasing demand, have contributed to an increase in fertilizer price.[89]

Contribution to climate change

The greenhouse gases carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide are produced during the manufacture of nitrogen fertilizer. The effects can be combined into an equivalent amount of carbon dioxide. The amount varies according to the efficiency of the process. The figure for the United Kingdom is over 2 kilogrammes of carbon dioxide equivalent for each kilogramme of ammonium nitrate.[90] Nitrogen fertilizer can be converted by soil bacteria to nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas.


Global methane concentrations (surface and atmospheric) for 2005; note distinct plumes
Global methane concentrations (surface and atmospheric) for 2005; note distinct plumes

Through the increasing use of nitrogen fertilizer, which was used at a rate of about 110 million tons (of N) per year in 2012,[91][92] adding to the already existing amount of reactive nitrogen, nitrous oxide (N2O) has become the third most important greenhouse gas after carbon dioxide and methane. It has a global warming potential 296 times larger than an equal mass of carbon dioxide and it also contributes to stratospheric ozone depletion.[93] By changing processes and procedures, it is possible to mitigate some, but not all, of these effects on anthropogenic climate change.[94]

Methane emissions from crop fields (notably rice paddy fields) are increased by the application of ammonium-based fertilizers. These emissions contribute to global climate change as methane is a potent greenhouse gas.[95][96]


In Europe problems with high nitrate concentrations in run-off are being addressed by the European Union's Nitrates Directive.[97] Within Britain, farmers are encouraged to manage their land more sustainably in 'catchment-sensitive farming'.[98] In the US, high concentrations of nitrate and phosphorus in runoff and drainage water are classified as non-point source pollutants due to their diffuse origin; this pollution is regulated at state level.[99] Oregon and Washington, both in the United States, have fertilizer registration programs with on-line databases listing chemical analyses of fertilizers.[100][101]

In China, there have been regulations implemented by the government that want to control N fertilizers being used in farming. In 2008, Chinese governments have started to partially withdraw fertilizer subsidies, which also include contributions to fertilizer transportation, electricity and natural gas use in the industry. Because of this, professional farmers who run large-scale farms have already used less fertilizers since then under the fertilizer prices went up. If large-scale farms keep reducing their use of fertilizer subsidies, they have no choice but to optimize the fertilizer they have which would therefore gain an increase in both grain yield and profit.[102]

Two types of agricultural management practices include organic agriculture and conventional agriculture. The former encourages soil fertility using local resources to maximize efficiency. Organic agriculture avoids synthetic agrochemicals. Conventional agriculture uses all the components that organic agriculture does not use.[103]


Founded in 1812, Mirat, producer of manures and fertilizers, is claimed to be the oldest industrial business in Salamanca (Spain).
Founded in 1812, Mirat, producer of manures and fertilizers, is claimed to be the oldest industrial business in Salamanca (Spain).

Management of soil fertility has been the preoccupation of farmers for thousands of years. Egyptians, Romans, Babylonians, and early Germans all are recorded as using minerals and or manure to enhance the productivity of their farms.[1] The modern science of plant nutrition started in the 19th century and the work of German chemist Justus von Liebig, among others. John Bennet Lawes, an English entrepreneur, began to experiment on the effects of various manures on plants growing in pots in 1837, and a year or two later the experiments were extended to crops in the field. One immediate consequence was that in 1842 he patented a manure formed by treating phosphates with sulfuric acid, and thus was the first to create the artificial manure industry. In the succeeding year he enlisted the services of Joseph Henry Gilbert, with whom he carried on for more than half a century on experiments in raising crops at the Institute of Arable Crops Research.[104]

The Birkeland–Eyde process was one of the competing industrial processes in the beginning of nitrogen based fertilizer production.[105] This process was used to fix atmospheric nitrogen (N2) into nitric acid (HNO3), one of several chemical processes generally referred to as nitrogen fixation. The resultant nitric acid was then used as a source of nitrate (NO3). A factory based on the process was built in Rjukan and Notodden in Norway, combined with the building of large hydroelectric power facilities.[106]

The 1910s and 1920s witness the rise of the Haber process and the Ostwald process. The Haber process produces ammonia (NH3) from methane (CH4) gas and molecular nitrogen (N2). The ammonia from the Haber process is then converted into nitric acid (HNO3) in the Ostwald process.[107] The development of synthetic fertilizer has significantly supported global population growth — it has been estimated that almost half the people on the Earth are currently fed as a result of synthetic nitrogen fertilizer use.[108]

The use of commercial fertilizers has increased steadily in the last 50 years, rising almost 20-fold to the current rate of 100 million tonnes of nitrogen per year.[109] Without commercial fertilizers it is estimated that about one-third of the food produced now could not be produced.[110] The use of phosphate fertilizers has also increased from 9 million tonnes per year in 1960 to 40 million tonnes per year in 2000. A maize crop yielding 6–9 tonnes of grain per hectare (2.5 acres) requires 31–50 kilograms (68–110 lb) of phosphate fertilizer to be applied; soybean crops require about half, as 20–25 kg per hectare.[111] Yara International is the world's largest producer of nitrogen-based fertilizers.[112]

Controlled-nitrogen-release technologies based on polymers derived from combining urea and formaldehyde were first produced in 1936 and commercialized in 1955.[19] The early product had 60 percent of the total nitrogen cold-water-insoluble, and the unreacted (quick-release) less than 15%. Methylene ureas were commercialized in the 1960s and 1970s, having 25% and 60% of the nitrogen as cold-water-insoluble, and unreacted urea nitrogen in the range of 15% to 30%.

In the 1960s, the Tennessee Valley Authority National Fertilizer Development Center began developing sulfur-coated urea; sulfur was used as the principal coating material because of its low cost and its value as a secondary nutrient.[19] Usually there is another wax or polymer which seals the sulfur; the slow-release properties depend on the degradation of the secondary sealant by soil microbes as well as mechanical imperfections (cracks, etc.) in the sulfur. They typically provide 6 to 16 weeks of delayed release in turf applications. When a hard polymer is used as the secondary coating, the properties are a cross between diffusion-controlled particles and traditional sulfur-coated.

See also


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