The war in Ukraine and the new Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) that comes into force in 2023 are conditioning the market for fertilizers and plant protection products, important inputs for agriculture in Spain and the European Union (EU).
The price of natural gas, the main raw material for nitrogen fertilizers, has risen up to ten times in a year after the start of the conflict and the subsequent sanctions on Russia, aggravating a crisis that came from before.
This is explained to Efe sources of the Spanish Association of Fertilizer Manufacturers (Anffe), representative of an industry highly consuming electricity and also affected by the increase in the price of electricity and other raw materials.
LACK OF EUROPEAN FERTILISERS
High production costs have reduced manufacturers’ competitiveness and supply in the EU, with a negative impact on market supply and food safety.
Jacob Hansen, director general of the European employers’ association for the sector (Fertilizers Europe), points out that currently 30% of production plants in the EU remain closed and this has led to large volumes of fertilizers being imported from third countries.
Precisely since summer there has been a greater flow of urea exports from Russia, whose fertilizer industry is not subject to direct European sanctions, but it does face more difficulties to operate due to the action of banks and individuals.
“If the current crisis is not addressed in the near future, Europe risks replacing its dependence on Russian gas with a dependence on Russian fertilizers,” Hansen said.
The sector calls on the EU and its member countries to help compensate for the damage and restore all its production, guaranteeing a stable and affordable supply of natural gas and other raw materials, with a view to safeguarding strategic autonomy and European food security.
In addition, the new CAP represents a “new twist on the environmental requirements” that farmers must meet to collect aid, a reinforced conditionality that directly affects fertilization, since a lower contribution of fertilizers and crop productivity is expected, according to Anffe.
Among the upcoming changes in Spain, it is mandatory to have a fertilizer plan for certain crops, which will be contemplated in a draft decree on sustainable nutrition.
The industry is in favour of maximising nutrient use efficiency, which is key to achieving the environmental objectives of the European Green Deal, without losing sight of the need to achieve an adequate supply of food at affordable prices.
NEW RULES FOR PLANT PROTECTION
Sources from the Business Association for the Protection of Flats (Aepla), which represents the phytosanitary sector in Spain, argue that the registration of input use data in the Digital Exploitation Booklet, included in the Spanish CAP application plan, can be a “good tool” for integrated pest management or the use of precision technologies.
Although more specificity is needed on this aspect and the new ecoschemes -aid linked to environmental practices-, the employers see positive the development of conservation agriculture through direct seeding and the establishment of vegetation covers.
However, he believes that not being able to use herbicides for the management of the covers, unless expressly authorized exceptionally, eliminates “unnecessarily” a “safe” resource from the environmental point of view.
At the European level, the European Commission has proposed a 50% cut in the use of chemical pesticides by 2030, in one of its initiatives to implement the Green Deal.
Aepla states that this proposal sets “complex and unrealistic reduction objectives that will negatively impact European agriculture”, with restrictions that in Spain can affect up to 40% of the agricultural area used.
The association calls for a regulatory environment that “streamlines and offers the necessary conditions for the development of new tools such as biosolutions.”
On the impact of the war, it rules out problems of supply of phytosanitary products, but it does observe a general increase in the price of certain products, initiated in 2021 by bottlenecks in trade and the rise in transport and fuel prices.
In Spain, the phytosanitary market has a downward trend of 5% due to the severe drought and, consequently, the decrease in herbicide treatments and, especially, fungicides, according to Aepla.
Farmers are already reducing fertilizer cost and use over 70% and reducing soil toxicity with the “SNX30 fertilizer supplement”. It’s backed by a growing number of agronomists and NCGA Corn Yield Winners too.