“Two out of every five people on Earth today owe their lives to the higher crop outputs that fertilizer has made possible.”
Bill Gates, Businessman
Pros and Cons of Fertilizer
The use of fertilizers has thousands of years of tradition, both in commercial agriculture as well as in private gardening.
Even though using fertilizers can have many important advantages, there are also some problems related to those substances.
All pros and cons of fertilizer are examined in the following.
Advantages of Fertilizers
- Using fertilizer can increase your crop yields
- Plant growth can be enhanced
- Plants will be better able to protect against pests
- Important to use farming space efficiently
- Crucial to ensure the livelihood of farmers
- Can help to overcome poverty
- More stable and predictable yields
- Proven concept over many hundreds of years
- Fertilizer is quite cheap
- Can help to optimize the pH-value of the soil
- Supply of plants with everything they need
- Multiple crop yields a year
- Fertilizer is easy to transport and to store
- Less soil erosion
Using fertilizer can increase your crop yields
One important advantage of fertilizers is that they can greatly increase your overall crop yields. For instance, if you plant tomatoes, peppers or other popular plants on your balcony, chances are that your space will be rather confined and you will not be able to provide sufficient soil for your plants so that they can develop in a healthy manner.
In turn, this can lead to a shortage of nutrients, especially when your plants get bigger and crops develop over time. Hence, in such a case, it is crucial that you use fertilizer in order to provide more nutrients to your plants so that they can grow better and can also produce higher crop yields. This is not only true if you want to grow crops on your balcony, it is also true for commercial farming.
Sure, plants will also grow without the use of fertilizers, yet they will often not provide the same crop yields if precious elements like nitrogen, phosphor or potassium are missing. By the way, have you ever noticed that most of our common fertilizers are labeled with “NPK”? If you have a look at the sentence before, it will become clear to you why 😉.
Plant growth can be enhanced
Not only the yields can be maximized through the use of fertilizer, but also the overall growth behavior of plants can be accelerated and enhanced. If no fertilizer is used, plants usually grow rather slow and quite often, they will not get big enough to be able to carry significant crop yields in autumn.
Therefore, it is crucial to speed up this growth process a little bit, especially in countries where climatic conditions are not optimal for agricultural processes.
Hence, if plants don’t grow in a healthy and fast manner due to several different reasons, the use of fertilizers can be a great way to accelerate the growth process and to give plants the chance to reach a certain height in a rather short period of time so that those plants are able to carry enough crops.
Plants will be better able to protect against pests
The stronger plants are, the less likely they are to be harmed by pests or plant diseases. Hence, especially in commercial agriculture, it is crucial that fertilizers are used in order to make those plants as strong as possible so that they are less likely to become victim to pests.
Moreover, if the plants are quite strong and are able to defend themselves properly, also fewer chemical pesticides have to be used in agriculture.
Since the use of pesticides can be regarded to be quite problematic from an environmental perspective, the use of organic fertilizer may be much better for our planet in the long-term perspective since fewer harmful chemicals will end up in the soil.
Important to use farming space efficiently
Our world population is growing at a rapid speed and chances are that our planet will suffer from serious overpopulation in the near future. Chances are that our world population will even exceed the 10 billion people mark until the end of the 21st century.
This also implies that we will have to feed many more people and in order to be able to provide enough food for everyone, we also have to use our farming space as efficiently as possible.
Hence, this also implies to maximize yields whenever we can since many people would suffer from serious starvation otherwise. Yet, there is a fine line between supplying enough food in the short run and protecting the soil in the long run.
We have to make sure to balance these goals properly in order to avoid any unpleasant consequences a few decades from now.
Crucial to ensure the livelihood of farmers
Many farmers will also greatly rely on the use of fertilizers. Those farmers often learned how to grow crops from their fathers who also used fertilizer and for them, agriculture without using fertilizer will often not even be imaginable.
Moreover, especially in the poor parts of our planet, farmers are often heavily dependent on stable crop yields and cannot afford to make any experiments since their livelihood depends on their returns from agriculture.
For instance, if those farmers refrained from fertilizer use for one year, in case of lower crop yields, not only those farmers, but also many other people who are dependent on these crop yields would suffer a lot.
Therefore, many farmers simply don’t want to take the risks since they fear the adverse possible consequences too much.
Can help to overcome poverty
Another benefit of using fertilizers is that it can also help farmers to overcome poverty. Especially in poor developing countries, many people still live under quite poor conditions. However, many of them also own a piece of land, but don’t use sufficient amounts of fertilizer yet due to financial or due to several other reasons.
In such a case, using fertilizer could greatly benefit those small farmers since they would be able to harvest much better crop yields and from the returns of selling those crops, these farmers could buy additional fertilizer and other farming equipment to improve their yield even further.
In the long run, chances are that those farmers would have significantly higher chances to get out of poverty with the help of fertilizer use.
More stable and predictable yields
Through the use of fertilizer in agriculture, not only the average yields will increase in the short run, but also the stability and predictability of crop yields would increase as well. Plants need certain conditions in order to grow properly and to produce high yields.
Therefore, farmers can be quite sure that if they provide their plants with the same conditions as last year, crop yields will also be quite similar to the yields of last year (assuming that there is no natural disaster or other extreme conditions).
Thus, the use of fertilizers can also give farmers the opportunity to be able to plan their future much better since their crop yields will be more stable.
Moreover, farmers can also make certain investments in their business in an easier manner since they know that those investments will most likely pay off in the near future.
Proven concept over many hundreds of years
The use of fertilizers is also quite popular since it has a quite long tradition. In fact, fertilizers have been used for hundreds or even thousands of years. Of course, back then, people used organic fertilizers rather than the chemical fertilizers that are mostly used right now. However, the concept and the goals of fertilizer use had been the same.
People wanted to improve their yields in order to make bigger profits and to be able to provide the local population with sufficient food. Hence, also from a historical perspective, the use of fertilizers makes a lot of sense and even though it might do more harm than good in some cases, farmers would often still rely on it since they just learned that fertilizer use would be the right way to go.
Fertilizer is quite cheap
Another upside of using fertilizers is that they are often quite cheap. If you go to a store and buy some standard NPK-fertilizer, chances are that you will be able to buy enough fertilizer to supply your garden plants for many years for just a few bucks.
This is not only true for your private use, but also the fertilizer that is used in conventional agriculture is usually quite cheap and therefore, it makes quite a lot of sense for farmers to rely on those substances in order to increase their overall crop yields.
Can help to optimize the pH-value of the soil
Fertilizers do not only improve the nutrient supply for plants so that they can grow in an optimal manner, they can also alter the acidity levels of the soil so that plants will have better overall conditions.
Plants are usually quite sensitive to the acidity level of the soil and incorrect pH-values in the soil can lead to significantly lower crop yields.
Hence, farmers often make sure that the acidity value is altered towards the optimum level by using the right type and amount of fertilizer.
Supply of plants with everything they need
In general, fertilizers are meant to give plants a boost in growth and crop yields by providing them with every element they need in order to reach those goals.
In fact, similar to humans who rely on food supplements to optimize their diet, fertilizers can be regarded as sort of a food supplement for plants.
What’s missing in the soil can be added through fertilizers in order to give plants everything they need to grow in an optimal manner.
Multiple crop yields a year
If fertilizers are used in the most efficient manner, even multiple crop yields per year might become feasible since plants will grow much faster. For instance, in climate zones where it is warm all year long, multiple crop yields may be possible if the growth duration of plants can be lowered sufficiently.
For instance, if plants would take one year from seed to harvest without the use of fertilizer and only half a year with the use of fertilizer, farmers could harvest the double amounts of crops over the same period of time.
Hence, especially in regions where farming is possible all year long due to climatic conditions, the use of fertilizer can be quite beneficial in order to achieve multiple crop yields a year.
Fertilizer is easy to transport and to store
Another advantage of fertilizer is that it is also quite easy to store and to transport. This is especially true for chemical fertilizers. Large amounts of those substances can be delivered in a granular condition and can be stored for a quite long time without losing their beneficial characteristics.
This makes it quite convenient to use fertilizer since farmers can order large quantities at a cheap price and store their fertilizer for quite a long time in case they would not need all of it for one season.
Less soil erosion
Since plants will be able to grow in an optimal manner, those plants will also become quite strong and their roots will be deeply anchored in the ground. In turn, those plants will be able to better hold the soil together, which in turn also reduces the risk for soil erosion.
Disadvantages of Using Fertilizers
- Soil pollution
- Groundwater pollution
- Soil will become less fertile over time
- Short-term gains vs. long-term losses
- Chemical fertilizers are especially harmful
- Using fertilizers cannot be considered to be natural
- Harmful elements in our food
- Plants may grow too fast
- Alteration of ecosystems
- Agricultural workers may suffer as well
- Incorrect use can do more harm than good
- Overfertilization is a problem
- Fertilizers can harm microorganisms in the soil
Apart from the several upsides of fertilizer use, there are also many issues related to this practice. One main problem of using fertilizer is that it can lead to serious soil pollution.
Even though fertilizers can be quite helpful to increase yields for a certain period of time, harmful substances will enter the soil and over time, chances are that the soil will ger seriously polluted.
This is especially true for chemical fertilizers since they often contain components that can be quite harmful to the soil.
Due to the soil pollution related to fertilizer use, also our groundwater will likely suffer a lot. This makes quite a lot of sense since all the components that enter our soil will be washed into our groundwater sooner or later. Hence, if the soil becomes polluted too much through the use of excessive amounts of fertilizer, chances are that also the quality of our groundwater will significantly decrease.
Water is a valuable resource that will become quite scarce in the future due to global warming. Therefore, it is crucial that we protect our groundwater as best as we can and this may also include banning or at least limiting the use of chemical fertilizers in agriculture.
Soil will become less fertile over time
The soil will not only become polluted due to the use of fertilizer, it will also become less fertile over time. Especially chemical fertilizers contain plenty of substances that are harmful to the soil and chances are that at one point in time, the soil will be such polluted that agriculture will no longer be profitable on those fields.
Hence, farmers should take great care to limit their fertilizer use so that the land can also still be used for agriculture in the far future.
Short-term gains vs. long-term losses
In general, there is a conflict between short-term and long-term goals when it comes to the use of fertilizers. While it makes sense to use large amounts of fertilizer in the short run in order to maximize crop yields, this may be quite harmful in the long run since the soil will become polluted and may also no longer be able for agricultural purposes.
Thus, there is a fine line between high crop yields in the short run and maintaining the fertility of the soil in the long run and farmers should take great care not to use too much fertilizer in order to assure the fertility of the soil for many future generations.
Chemical fertilizers are especially harmful
When it comes to fertilizers, there is a significant difference between chemical and organic fertilizers. While organic fertilizers can be produced through composting and often contain not too many harmful substances, chemical fertilizers are produced through industrial processes and often contain many components that might harm the soil in the long run.
Consequently, if you want to use fertilizer at your home, at least make sure that you use organic instead of chemical fertilizer in order to protect the soil.
Using fertilizers cannot be considered to be natural
In general, before humans even existed on our planet, a huge variety of plants had already been present. Of course, those plants didn’t get any fertilizer at all or only the natural fertilizer from animal excrements. Therefore, especially the use of chemical fertilizers can be considered to be rather unnatural, also from an evolutionary perspective.
Harmful elements in our food
In rare cases when too much of the wrong type of fertilizer is used in agriculture, this can also adversely affect our food. Plants will always extract the components of those fertilizers and those components will partially also end up in the produced crops. Hence, farmers should make sure to only use fertilizers that are officially known to be harmless for food production.
Plants may grow too fast
Although the fast growth of plants is often beneficial to maximize crop yields, too much of it may rather hurt those plants since their overall level of stability may suffer. In turn, due to storms or other adverse events, those plants may snap and crop yields may significantly suffer due to that.
Alteration of ecosystems
Another downside of using fertilizers is that our natural ecosystems can be altered quite a lot. Our animals and plants are not used to chemical fertilizers and have not evolved with them for a longer period of time.
This also implies that those animals and plants may be harmed by those substances and our natural ecosystems may be altered in an adverse and unnatural manner.
Agricultural workers may suffer as well
Not only the local flora and fauna may suffer due to the use of fertilizers, but also the agricultural workers may suffer as well. Especially in case chemical fertilizers are used, protection equipment is crucial to protect workers against the fine particles that will be present in the air.
Hence, in many countries, workers will not be equipped with proper protection and chances are that those workers will inhale those harmful elements, which can in turn lead to serious pulmonary diseases or also to several other health problems.
Incorrect use can do more harm than good
Fertilizers are often quite concentrated and if too much of it is used, it can do more harm than good. In fact, if plants come in contact with too much fertilizer, chances are that the roots of those plants will be burned and that the growth behavior as well as the crop yields will greatly suffer due to that.
Thus, farmers should make sure that they know what they are doing before deciding to use fertilizer for their fields. The same is true if you use fertilizer at home. Make sure that you start with a rather small dose and see how your plants will react.
Overfertilization is a problem
In extreme cases, serious overfertilization can be another issue related to unthoughtful fertilizer use. Many people underestimate how concentrated their fertilizer really is and will therefore use way too much. Hence, make sure to only use moderate amounts of fertilizer at home in order to protect your plants from all kinds of negative effects.
Fertilizers can harm microorganisms in the soil
Finally, the excessive use of chemical fertilizers can also significantly harm the microorganisms in the soil. Many bugs and other organisms will not be able to deal with those chemical substances in a proper manner and many of them will even die off in the long run. In turn, this may lead to unclear long-term effects, not only for the soil but also for your ecosystems as a whole.
Top 10 Fertilizer Pros & Cons – Summary List
|Fertilizer Pros||Fertilizer Cons|
|Fertilizer can improve overall productivity||Can make the soil less fertile over time|
|Efficient land use||Short-term gains vs. long-term losses|
|Can improve the growth behavior of plants||Fertilizers can contribute to soil pollution|
|Fertilizers can maximize crop yields||Groundwater pollution|
|Multiple harvests per year may become possible||Excessive use can do more harm than good|
|Plants can better protect against pests||Chemical fertilizers are not natural products|
|Fertilizers are rather cheap||Workers in agriculture may suffer|
|Can be stored quite easily||Overfertilization|
|Lower risk for soil erosion||Can harm microorganisms in the soil|
|Fertilizers can optimize the pH value of the soil||Ecosystems may become altered|
Should You Use Fertilizers?
As we have seen before, the use of fertilizers is crucial to optimize crop yields. However, too much of it can do more harm than good and farmers and also you at your home should make sure not to use too much of it in order to protect our soil and our ecosystems.
Moreover, if you want to use fertilizer for your garden, make sure to use organic instead of chemical fertilizer. You may even be able to produce this kind of organic fertilizer by yourself by composting.
About the author
My name is Andreas and my mission is to educate people of all ages about our environmental problems and how everyone can make a contribution to mitigate these issues.
As I went to university and got my Master’s degree in Economics, I did plenty of research in the field of Development Economics.
After finishing university, I traveled around the world. From this time on, I wanted to make a contribution to ensure a livable future for the next generations in every part of our beautiful planet.
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