The global population is expected to reach more than 9 billion by 2050. This rapid expansion places tremendous strain on an already overburdened agricultural industry. To meet this demand, farmers increasingly need to apply more fertilizers to keep pace. This equates to reduced inventories and stronger prices for fertilizers in the near and long term.
Fertilizers are compounds of nutrients given to plants with the intention of promoting growth. The three primary macronutrients are nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K). Secondary macronutrients include calcium (Ca), magnesium (Mg) and sulfur (S). There are also micronutrients which benefit plant growth, including boron (B), copper (Cu), iron (Fe), chloride (Cl), manganese (Ma), molybdenum (Mo) and zinc (Zn). These nutrients, or fertilizers, are applied through the soil for uptake by plant roots or by foliar spraying for uptake through leaves. Fertilizers can be organic (composed of organic matter, i.e. carbon-based), or inorganic (containing simple, inorganic chemicals).
Fertilizer compounds can be naturally-occurring, such as peat or mineral deposits, or manufactured through natural (e.g. composting) or chemical (e.g. Haber-Bosch or Mannheim) processes. Production entails gathering raw materials from nature, treating them to purify or increase their concentration, converting them into plant-available forms, and often combining them into products that contain more than one nutrient.
The global demand for fertilizers has been rebounding since the economic downturn of 2008/2009 and is forecast to reach 191 million tons in 2015/2016, according to the International Fertilizer Industry Association. This would far surpass the previous record high demand of 168 million tons in 2007/2008. In the coming years, the demand for potassium fertilizers, or potash, is forecast to grow much faster (+4.7% per annum) than demand for nitrogen (+1.9% per annum) and phosphorus (+3.1% p.a.) fertilizers.
In 2010, the global fertilizer industry operated at 80% of total capacity, an improvement over 76% in 2009. The International Fertilizer Industry Association estimates global capacity of fertilizers will reach 250 million tons by 2015, with new projects and expansion of existing operations. The organization also forecasts upwards of $80 billion of investment into the fertilizer industry from 2010 to 2015.