Everybody should eat a balanced diet, consuming the right types and amounts of food to ensure proper nutrition.

Agricultural soil needs a balanced diet as well, so that it can produce healthy crops.

That’s why fertilizer is so important. It’s the food that feeds the soil. Farmers everywhere must have easy access to it, especially in the developing world, where it’s often in short supply.

Without fertilizer, soil starves. Crops don’t grow as well as they should. The yields of farmers drop. People suffer.

So healthy people depend on healthy soil, fed by fertilizer.

As a farmer in India, I see malnutrition everyday. It’s a huge problem in my country, and it has many sources—but one of the main causes of human malnutrition in India is soil malnutrition. We don’t feed our soil the balanced diet it needs. As a result, our people don’t eat well enough.

 

Want access to the very latest in agriculture news each day? Sign up for the Western Farm Press Daily e-mail newsletter.

 

A new report from the Global Partnership on Nutrient Management estimates that nitrogen and other mineral fertilizers nourish about half the people in the world. Without these inputs, in other words, about half of humanity would go hungry. So more than 3.5 billion people owe their health to fertilizers.

As successful farmers know, however, you can’t just “dump” fertilizer on cropland. That’s like eating a meal full of empty calories—they may fill your belly, but they’re harmful to your long-term health.

For crops, a balanced diet generally consists of three main ingredients: nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium (in addition to other micro nutrients). Nitrogen encourages robust plant growth. Phosphorous promotes root development. Potassium assists with the absorption of moisture and helps resist drought.

Together, they feed the soil—and the soil feeds the crops that feed us.

Sometimes, however, farmers try to get away with feeding the soil only one nutrient—and in India; the government actually encourages this bad idea. In a misguided attempt to protect domestic industries from foreign competition, New Delhi subsidizes nitrogen for agriculture. As a result, many farmers who don’t understand the basics of soil nutrition wrongly believe that nitrogen is all they need. Some even think that the more nitrogen they use, the better off they are.