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  • Context (IE): Balanced fertilisation is likely to be a key policy goal for the government.
  • Balanced fertilisation means supplying nutrients in the right proportion, based on soil type and the crop’s own requirement at different growth stages.
  • Balanced fertilisation is “discouraging farmers from applying excess urea, di-ammonium phosphate (DAP) or muriate of potash (MOP), which only have primary nutrients in high concentrations”.
  • These nutrients include primary (N, phosphorus-P and potassium-K), secondary (sulphur-S, calcium, magnesium) and micro (iron, zinc, copper, manganese, boron, molybdenum).

Increase in Urea consumption

  • Urea consumption hit a record 35.8 million tonnes (mt) in the fiscal year ending March 2024, 16.9% higher than the 30.6 mt in 2013-14.
  • Urea (contains 46% nitrogen) consumption actually fell during 2016-17 and 2017-18, which was attributed to the mandatory coating of all urea with neem oil from May 2015.
  • Despite compulsory neem coating and the government reducing the bag size from 50 kg to 45 kg in March 2018, urea consumption has only increased during the last six years.
  • Notably, The nutrient-based subsidy (NBS) system, instituted in 2010, excluded Urea from it.

Neem Coated Urea

  • Neem coating was intended to check the illegal diversion of the highly subsidised urea for non-agricultural uses, including plywood, dye, cattle feed, and synthetic milk makers.
  • Neem oil supposedly also acted as a mild nitrification inhibitor, allowing a more gradual release of nitrogen. Improved nitrogen use efficiency also reduced the amount required per acre.

Pricing challenges

  • Lower prices of DAP have led to its over-application replacing Urea.
  • Higher prices of Muriate of Potassium (MOP) incentivise neither farmers to apply directly nor companies to incorporate it into complexes, leaving plants Potassium starved.
  • Potassium boosts the immunity of crops against pests and diseases, as well as the uptake of nitrogen.

Way forward

  • Price hierarchy: Pricing non-urea fertilisers in the proper hierarchy, i.e., DAP the highest, MOP the lowest and complexes in between, can ensure their balanced use.
  • Crop-specific application: DAP use should be restricted mainly to rice and wheat. Other crops can meet their P requirement through complexes.
  • Urea under NBS: Lower international prices of fertilisers have opened the scope for including Urea in the NBS.
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