Global agriculture must make better and efficient use of fertiliser in order to ensure the sustainability of the world’s food supply, according to Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) senior plant production and protection specialist Caterina Batello.

She was commenting in the wake of a new report from the FAO which indicates that global fertiliser use is likely to reach 200 million tonnes by 2018: a 25% increase on the levels actually consumed in 2008.

“There is now a complete imbalance in the way the world’s fertiliser market is evolving,” she said.

“In the more established economies we are seeing the overuse of this resource, leading to pollution-related problems, while in other regions there is not enough fertiliser being used to sustain food output levels.”

She pointed out that fertilisers must be put to best possible use in all scenarios.

“At FAO we have a three-point plan to make this work. In the first instance farmers must adopt rotation strategies which optimise crop output and soil conservation levels. There is also a requirement to make more use of legumes, which are an important source of crop Nitrogen in their own right.”

Batello also believes that manufacturers must do more to develop slow release fertilisers, which deliver plant nutrients over a longer period of time.

“This approach is more in line with crops’ actual requirements throughout the growing season. Where phosphate is specifically concerned we need to see farmers re-cycling waste materials more efficiently, otherwise they will be losing out on a resource that already exists on their farms.

“More international research is also required into the ways our soils can be maintained in prime condition. Maintaining soil organic matter levels is crucially important in this regard. Soil degradation is a key challenge confronting farmers in many different countries.”