Indian farmers opt for complex fertilisers

Record international prices of fertilisers, it seems, has forced Indian farmers to go in for more diversified and balanced plant nutrient application. This is borne out by higher sales of complex fertilisers and single super phosphate (SSP) in the current rabi cropping season, amid widespread shortages of the more popular di-ammonium phosphate (DAP) and muriate of potash (MOP).

Retail sales of complex fertilisers – which contain nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), potash (K) and sulphur (S) in various combinations – totaled 27.7 lakh tonnes (lt) in October-November, marking an almost 50% increase over the 18.48 lt during the corresponding two months of 2020. Even more spectacular was the more than two-third jump in SSP sales: From 9.5 lt in October-November 2020 to 15.78 lt in October-November 2021.

Complex fertilisers include products such as ‘20:20:0:13’, ‘10:26:26:0’ and ‘12:32:16:0’ that denote different NPKS ratios. These fertilisers have lower content of specific plants nutrients than in urea (46% N), DAP (46% P and 18% N) and MOP (60% K). But having all the required macronutrients in reasonable quantities makes them more balanced fertilisers. This applies even to SSP, which has only 16% P, as against 46% in DAP. However, unlike the latter, it also contains 11% S.

Sales of both DAP and MOP have taken a huge knock in the ongoing planting season due to skyrocketing global prices, resulting in reduced imports.

Data from the department of fertilisers shows retail DAP sales during October-November at 28.76 lt, 18.4% down compared to the 35.23 lt for the corresponding two months of 2020. MOP sales for October-November 2021 were reported at 4.88 lt, 15.9% lower than the 5.8 lt for October-November 2020.

Interestingly, the state to have recorded the least reduction, if not a marginal rise, in the sale of the two fertilisers (9.83 lt versus 10.08 lt for DAP and 0.91 lt versus 0.9 lt for MOP) was Uttar Pradesh, which goes to polls about two months from now.

All-India sales of urea posted a 12.6% jump from 46.09 lt in October-November 2020 to 51.92 lt in October-November 2021. But the increase was hardly 3.8% relative to the 50.04 lt during October-November 2019.

“Buoyant sales of complex fertilisers and SSP are a good sign. Not only is this needed, especially when global prices of fertilisers and raw materials/intermediates (rock phosphate, sulphur, phosphoric acid, ammonia and liquefied natural gas) have gone through the roof, balanced crop nutrition is the way forward,” said Satish Chander, director-general of the Fertiliser Association of India.

The landed price (cost plus freight) of DAP in India is now around $870 per tonne, while at $1,000/tonne for urea and $450/tonne for MOP. Last year at this time, these rates ruled at roughly $370, $280 and $230 per tonne, respectively.

India, in 2020-21 (April-March), consumed an all-time-high 676.10 lt of fertilisers. That included 350.43 lt of urea, 119.11 lt DAP, 118.11 lt NPKS complexes, 44.89 lt SSP and 34.25 lt MOP. With imported input prices shooting up and also in short supply, Indian companies have sought to boost sales of complexes and SSP over high-analysis fertilisers such as DAP, MOP and even urea.

Out of the 118.11 lt complex fertiliser consumption in 2020-21, as much as 56.09 lt took place in the southern states and another 37.46 lt in western India. North and East India, on the other hand, accounted for just 7.21 lt and 17.35 lt, respectively.

“Northern farmers are used to DAP and MOP. But this time, even these farmers have gone in for complexes and SSP. So, instead of one bag of DAP, they are applying one bag each of SSP and 20:20:0:13, together giving nearly the same N and P plus 24% S,” P.S. Gahlaut, managing director of Indian Potash Ltd, pointed out.

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