We are experiencing a rise in population forcing us to seek options to produce more food through agricultural technology. Chemical fertilizers are one such way of promoting plant growth and their major nutrients are nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorous. It is the tiny raw granules of nutrients that dissolve in soil and are readily absorbed by the plants. Besides boosting growth, they can greatly enhance soil fertility. The use of chemical fertilizers results in higher crop yields but can simultaneously create a chemical imbalance if used in excess amounts. This brings us to the advantages and disadvantages of chemical fertilizers.
Advantages of chemical fertilizers
The synthetic ingredients used in chemical fertilizers stimulate plant development, which is only one of its advantages. Let’s go over a few others.
1. They are predictable and reliable
The chemical fertilizers are highly calculable and dependable as all the nutrients are present in appropriate amounts. That way, the soil won’t get more or less of a specific nutrient. The balance of nutrients that chemical fertilizers provide make the soil ideal for growing crops. Moreover, you can easily find them in any gardening store, unlike organic fertilizer, where you have to invest time in making them.
2. Chemical fertilizers ensure good yields
Along with improving the absorption of nutrients from the soil, chemical fertilizers also increase the depth of the roots. They provide essential nutrients to the plants that are crucial for their efficient and quick growth. Therefore, they are widely used to ensure good yields, and, for instance, farmers use them to maximize crop production.
3. They deliver immediate nutritional access
This is one of the major advantages of chemical fertilizers. If your plant is unhealthy or on the verge of dying, you can use the chemical fertilizers right away, and rest assured it will work. That’s because chemical fertilizers provide prompt nutritional access required by the plant. Using organic fertilizer in this situation can be risky as the organic materials take time to break down and only then the plants can get nutrients. There’s a possibility that the plant might die by the time organic fertilizers can be effective.
4. Chemical fertilizers are easy to use
Compared to organic fertilizer like manure, you can easily transport chemical fertilizers. That’s because this form of fertilizer is easily available for use in several forms. You can find them in dry granules, liquid concentrates, as well as water-soluble powder. They are designed to fulfill specific planting needs. Plus, you can control its release, meaning the chemical fertilizer will dispense nutrients over an extended period without requiring assistance.
5. They offer control over nutrients
The best part about a chemical fertilizer is that it offers you command over the nutrients you provide to your plants. In any inorganic fertilizers container or bag, you’ll find the proportion in which the nutrients are present. Most commonly, they are displayed in N-P-K format, where the first number is the percentage of nitrogen, followed by phosphorous and potassium. That way, you know the exact amount of nutrients your plant is receiving, eliminating the guessing work of their composition.
Disadvantages of chemical fertilizers
Even though they seem to have solved the problem of increasing food production, in reality, they have created their set of issues. The following are several downsides of chemical fertilizers.
1. They are expensive
Compared to organic fertilizers such as natural manure, chemical fertilizers are costly. You can make your organic fertilizer more cheaply than by purchasing the inorganic ones. Off-the-shelf chemical fertilizers are still affordable, but specially formulated ones are quite expensive. You’ll have to spend a lot to get the benefits of tailor-made chemical fertilizers.
2. Chemical fertilizers can deplete the soil
The problem with using chemical fertilizers is that they alter the pH (potential of hydrogen) value of the soil. Furthermore, this kind of fertilizer reduces the humus and organic matter content. This loss negatively impacts the soil’s capacity to store nutrients, followed by its depletion. The overuse of chemical fertilizers with time yields crops, but they become nutritionally deficient.
3. They pollute the environment
Our environment suffers from the use of chemical fertilizers. Firstly, the increased level of nitrate kills microorganisms in the soil. This leads to decreased microbial activity and eventually soil infertility. Secondly, they are insoluble and stay with the soil. To remove them, we must wash them away, which becomes a problem when they end up in the lakes, rivers, and oceans. This is because they cause algal blooms that block the sunlight required by aquatic life.
Moreover, the nitrogen present in the chemical fertilizers contributes to nitrous oxide emissions. Plus, it has a long life eventually contributing to climate change. Lastly, chemical fertilizers are not eco-friendly. Their manufacturing consumes excessive energy and the petroleum products used in them are not sustainable.
4. Chemical fertilizers interrupt soil ecology
When we use chemical fertilizers repeatedly, the process results in a toxic buildup. These toxic chemicals are cadmium, arsenic, and uranium which can kill the entire microbial ecosystem. Additionally, formulations contain salt and other compounds that can alter the soil chemistry. This is to say that the use of chemical fertilizers damages the soil structure. Whereas, the maintenance of soil structure is essential for its long-term health.
5. Their application can result in weak plants
As we have mentioned earlier, the use of chemical fertilizers destroys the soil’s microorganisms. These are pivotal for the plants as they help them increase their natural defense against pests and diseases. Also, when chemical fertilizers are used, the plants grow more quickly than their roots can sustain. This makes them more vulnerable. In the long run, these plants become dependent on chemicals to maintain their health.
Moreover, chemical fertilizers contain salts that in excess amounts can dry out the plant. The leaf tips and edges turn brown or black along with the roots. In the worst-case scenario, the plant might die because of this. To sum up, the overall development of the plant is negatively affected because of the overuse of chemical fertilizers.