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More fertiliser use, but falling response & poorer soil

Shaikh Zoaib Saleem  |  New Delhi 

The fertiliser sector gets its importance by supplementing foodgrain productivity, which in turn feeds the ever increasing population. But what if fertiliser use efficiency or the nutrient response degrades?

In the past two decades, the nutrient response ratio, which is the ratio of foodgrain productivity to nutrient consumption, has seen a steady decline. From 14.06 in 1990-91 to 8.59 in 2010-11, this reflects poor soil health management, despite the record grain production in recent years.

Experts attribute this to the intensive agriculture practices in the past half a century, which resulted in the mining of secondary and micro nutrients like sulphur, zinc and boron in the soil.

Pradeep K Sharma, dean, College of Agriculture, Himachal Pradesh Agricultural University, said this was only one of the reasons for the reduced productivity. There was also climate change, pest diseases and other soil management problems.

“This ratio is a clear indication that fertiliser productivity is declining,” he said, adding that related problems such as deterioration in quality of irrigation water were not properly documented and, hence, failed to garner attention.

He emphasised the need for soil test-based use of fertiliser, not common in the country. “The soil testing facilities in the country also need to be improved to a large extent,” he added.

P P Biswas, principal scientist (soils) at the Indian Council of Agricultural Research, feels the neglect of organic material is leading to this degradation, and the only key to fix this problem was to use organic fertiliser. “With the reduction in use of organic manure, nutrients like zinc, boron and sulphur have become increasingly deficient. The use of organic manure will automatically improve the composition of these secondary and micro nutrients,” he said. “These days, you do not even find earthworms in the soil. That proves the physical as well as biological deterioration of soil health.”

Rakesh Kapur, joint managing director of Indian Farmers Fertiliser Cooperative Ltd called for bringing together all the disjointed efforts by different agencies under a single umbrella.

On policy, he said:, “Unless and until the entire fertiliser sector is governed by a uniform policy, fruitfulness can’t be achieved in totality.”

Sharma is hopeful that the Nutrient Based Subsidy regime for fertiliser use and subsidy would improve this situation.

First Published: Mon, January 02 2012. 02:05 IST