Terry Roberts, president of IPNI, explains how GCC producers have a role to play in promoting nutrient stewardship around the globe
JOHN BAKER LONDON
Fertilizer producers in the GCC countries have a role to play in supporting and encouraging the efficient use of the plant nutrients they make, mainly nitrogen, phosphate, potash and sulfur.
Even though they produce largely for export to global markets, “they can have influence and can actively support efforts to ensure that nutrients are used appropriately”, says Terry Roberts, president of the International Plant Nutrition Institute (IPNI), based in Georgia, US.
“They can help provide information to customers that will help them use fertilizers effectively and help allay public and government concerns by showing that fertilizer producers are actively engaged in promoting the scientific use of plant nutrients”, he explains.
IPNI is a not-for-profit, international research and education organization dedicated to the responsible management of plant nutrition. It has a mandate to present scientific information on plant nutrition, says Roberts.
“Central to this mission is nutrient stewardship. Right now we feel that nutrient education is generally inadequate around the world. We need to produce crop recommendations to improve yield and to identify and close yields gaps in order to improve food security.”
IPNI was created in 2007 and has active programs in most areas of the globe, including the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). Members in this region include Arab Potash Company in Jordan and OCP in Morocco, with the Arab Fertilizer Association engaged as an associate member. As present none of the major GCC producers is a member, although Qatar’s QAFCO was a member at one time.
One of IPNI’s main tools for promoting the scientific and effective use of plant nutrients is the 4R nutrient stewardship program, which encourages farmers to use fertilizers appropriately by applying “the right nutrient source, at the right rate, at the right time, and in the right place”.
The 4Rs concept has been developed through a long history of cooperation between the fertilizer industry and the scientific community. Since at least 1988, application of the right nutrient source or product at the right rate, right time and in the right place has been closely associated with agricultural sustainability.
Roberts explains that the 4R principles are scientifically based and globally applicable and adaptable, but are very site specific; that is, they need to be tailored to specific crops, climates and farming practices for use. But, he adds, “they allow us to address global issues” in farming and nutrition use.
In North America, for instance, where environmental issues in terms of eutrophication and greenhouse gas emissions are a big concern, application of the 4Rs will address these and improve sustainability of farming. In other, less developed farming areas, they can and lead to improved use of plant nutrients by smallholder farmers and address issues of food security.
Often, he points out, many people believe improving efficiency just means using less nutrients – but this is not the case. “You need to optimize the yield. This is why we encourage people to adopt and use the 4R philosophy.”
To address the growing need for science-based fertilizer recommendations for smallholder farmers in Asia and Africa, IPNI has developed an online decision support software tool called Nutrient Expert. This is now available for download after almost eight years of development, verification and trial application.
IPNI is providing a free option for making nutrient recommendations for wheat and maize production in Asia. A rice tool is currently under pre-release large-scale validation phase in Asia.
A maize tool for sub-Saharan Africa is close to release, and a wheat tool for North Africa is in development, as are soybean tools for Asia and a cotton tool in South Asia. Work has just recently started to develop a tool for cassava in southeast Asia and central Africa.
IPNI currently has one scientist based in the Middle East to look after its program there. He is Munir Rusan, who works in the faculty of agriculture at the Jordan University of Science and Technology in Irbid, and is also the consulting director Middle East for IPNI. In North Africa it has two scientists, both based in Morocco.
Roberts notes that, given the arid climate in the GCC region, fertigation – the delivery of fertilizers through irrigation systems - is big issue in the area. It has projects up and running in Egypt and Pakistan. Currently IPNI is delivering workshops on this aspect of the 4Rs and is developing an Arabic version of the 4R manual with a focus on fertigation. This should be available shortly, says Roberts.
Roberts also notes that IPNI is collaborating with and supporting the Arab Fertilizer Association, based in Egypt, providing technical support. Despite the lack of GCC membership in IPNI, Roberts says he is keen to talk to producers here and wants to help them to encourage people to use fertilizers effectively and efficiently.
As part of this effort, Roberts and Rusan, together with Kaushik Majumdar, vice president Asia and Africa for IPNI, will be presenting the concept and the science behind the 4Rs at a workshop on “4R nutrient stewardship principles and practices” on the first day of the GPCA Fertilizer Convention in Dubai (6-8 September). Roberts is also presenting a paper on maximizing yields by using the right nutrients on the second day.
Terry Roberts is president of International Plant Nutrition Institute (IPNI) and was previously president of the Potash & Phosphate Institute (PPI), the predecessor to IPNI. A native of Alberta, Canada, he grew up in a family-owned and operated retail fertilizer business. Terry received a BSA in crop science (1981) from the University of Saskatchewan and a PhD in soil fertility and plant nutrition (1985) from the same institution. He is a certified crop adviser. In 2001 he was recognized as a fellow of the American Society of Agronomy (ASA) and received ASA’s agronomic service award in 2013.
“We need to produce crop recommendations to improve yield and to identify and close yields gaps in order to improve food security”