Why Urea continues to rule India’s farms?

Why Urea continues to rule India’s farms?
News: The article discusses India’s growing dependence on Urea in spite of measures taken by government to discourage its usage.

What initiatives were taken by government to check Urea usage?
 In May 2015, the Centre made it mandatory to coat all indigenously manufactured and imported urea with neem oil.
 It was followed by replacing 50-kg bags with 45-kg ones in March 2018.
 Recently, the launch of liquid ‘Nano Urea’ by the Indian Farmers’ Fertiliser Cooperative (IFFCO).
 Earlier, in 2010 the Nutrient based subsidy (NBS) was launched as well.
 PM Pranam scheme
 One nation, one fertilizer
 Direct benefit transfer of Fertilizer subsidy

What are Fertilizers?
 Fertilisers are essentially food for crops, which need nutrients. All the nutrients are essential for plant growth and grain yield.
 They need nutrients – Primary, secondary and micro.
 Primary nutrients - N, P, K
 Secondary nutrients - S, calcium, magnesium
 Micro nutrients - iron, zinc, copper, manganese, boron, molybdenum

Why did Nutrient based subsidy (NBS) failed?
 Unlike the earlier product-specific subsidy regime, the NBS was intended to promote balanced fertilisation by discouraging farmers from applying too much Urea, Di-ammonium phosphate (DAP) and Muriate of potash (MOP)
 These are fertilisers with high content of a single nutrient: Urea (46% N), DAP (46% P plus 18% N) and MOP (60% K).
 It was expected to induce product innovation, besides more use of complex fertilisers (having lower concentrations of N, P, K and S in different proportions) and single super phosphate – SSP (containing only 16% P but also 11% S).
 However, data reveals worsening of nutrient imbalance, with urea consumption rising by over a third since 2009-10.

What observations are made regarding Nitrogen use efficiency (NUE)?
 NUE refers to the proportion of N applied mainly through urea that is actually utilised by crops to produce harvested yields.
 In a 2022 paper, it was estimated the NUE in India to have fallen from 48.2% in 1962-63 to 34.7% in 2018.
 In other words, when Indian farmers are applying 100 kg of N, hardly 35 kg is now being utilised, with the balance 65 kg unavailable to the plant. Some of the unutilised N may convert into organic form and become part of the soil nitrogen pool.

What is the solution?
There are 2 approaches to cut urea consumption:
 The first is raising prices. The current per-tonne MRPs – Rs 5,628 for urea, Rs 27,000 for DAP and Rs 34,000 for MOP – are nowhere compatible with a 4:2:1 NPK use ratio. (In other words, such prices will only worsen the NPK ratio)
 The second approach is to improve NUE – enabling farmers to harvest the same or more grain yields with fewer bags. According to an industry expert the government should make incorporation of urease and nitrification inhibitors compulsory in urea.

These are chemical compounds that inhibit the activity of urease (a soil enzyme that breaks down urea into ammonium and further to ammonia) and nitrifying bacteria (that convert ammonium to nitrate), making more N available to the crops.

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