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Balanced Nutrition for Sustainable Crop Production In

India
Rajan Bhatt, Assistant professor, KVK Kapurthala

The rate of growth of agriculture in its broad coverage of crop production is much below
the national growth rate. If the economy of country is to be improved through agriculture, it has
to strengthen its programmes in such a manner to better utilize the natural resources along with
balanced use of chemical fertilizers and other inputs. We are aware that for increasing the food
production to fulfill the food requirements of the burgeoning population of the country
sustainability of agriculture and environmental safety are the priority issues. To avoid wastage of
precious national resource and to minimize the environmental damage there is need develop and
demonstrate balanced use of chemical fertilizer. This will not only improve the crop production
in sustainable way but also economize the crop production. Higher food production needs higher
amount of plant nutrients. As no single source is capable of supplying the required amount of
nutrients, integrated use of all sources is a must to supply balanced nutrition to plants.

What is balanced nutrition?

Balanced fertilization does not mean a certain definite proportion of nitrogen, phosphorus and
potash or other nutrients to be added in the form of fertilizer, but it has to take into account the
availability of nutrients already present in the soil, crop requirement and other factors. It should
take into account the crop removal of nutrients, the economics of fertilizers and profitability,
farmers ability to invest, agro-techniques, soil moisture regime, weed control, plant protection,
seed rate, sowing time, soil salinity, alkalinity, physical environment, microbiological condition
of the soil, available nutrient status of soil, cropping sequence, etc. It is not a state but a dynamic
concept.

We can say that balanced use of fertilizers should be mainly aimed at :

(a) increasing crop yield, (b) increasing crop quality, (c) increasing farm income, (d) correction
of inherent soil nutrient deficiencies, (e) maintaining or improving lasting soil fertility, (f)
avoiding damage to the environment, and (g) restoring fertility and productivity of the land that
has been degraded by wrong and exploitative activities in the past.

Balanced use of plant nutrients corrects nutrient deficiency, improves soil fertility, increases
nutrient and water use efficiency, enhances crop yields and farmers income, betters crop and
environmental quality. To reap the benefits of balanced use of plant nutrients, it is important to
have good quality seed, adequate moisture and better agronomic practices with greater emphasis
on timeliness and precision in farm operations.

Soil testing is one of the most important tools to practice balanced fertilization. Balanced
fertilizer rates differ from area to area and also from crop to crop. Through soil testing farmers
can know how much and what kind of fertilizer to use for each crop. A further refinement in
fertilizer dose is possible on the basis of type of crop and its variety, water availability and its
quality, availability of organic manures, crop residues, biofertilizers, etc. Since the initiation of
green revolution in late sixties, India has made a remarkable progress in fertilizer nutrient use
with the introduction of high yielding varieties of wheat and rice. Crop production under
intensified agriculture over the years has resulted in large scale removal of nutrients from the
soil, resulting in negative balance and declining soil fertility. Organic sources are undoubtedly an
important source of nutrients but their amounts and available nutrient content and the release rate
is woefully inadequate for meeting the demands of intensive and high yielding crop production.
India is presently using 15 mt of nutrients in the form of chemical fertilizers. Supplying the same
through organic sources would require more than a thousand million tones, which is an
impossible task indeed. Such organic manures in monumental volumes are neither available nor
can be generated. Thus organic sources of nutrients can only be relied upon on meeting parts of
the nutrients needs of the crop. They should be added along with chemical fertilizers for ensuring
stability and sustainability of food production.

In India fertilizer consumption increased from less than 50,000 tonnes in 1950 to 15
million tones in 2000 and the food grain production increased from 50 mt to 200 mt in the same
period, indicating a direct relationship between the fertilizer use and yield increase. The green
revolution or spectacular increase in production would not have been possible without many fold
increase in use of fertilizers. The high yielding varieties became a catalyst for the conversion of
chemical energy into biological productivity. We have not yet realized the full potential of these
varieties. Even the optimum potential of available technology remains mostly unrealized in most
regions as nutrient input does not match the needs of the crop and soil. There are vast differences
in consumption of fertilizers per ha of cropped area in different regions. The fertlizer
consumption varies from 114, 103, 58, 47 kg (NPK) per ha cropped area in north, south, east and
west respectively. Some states like Punjab are using more than 167 kg nutrients per ha as against
some using less than 10 kg nutrients per ha. About 70 – 80 per cent fertilizer is used for growing
rice and wheat. Besides these the major recipients of the remaining fertilizer use are sugarcane,
cotton, potato, plantation and horticulture crops. The lowest fertilizer use is in rainfed farming,
which covers nearly 66 per cent of the total cropped area in the country. It hardly needs to be
stressed that in these rainfed areas more from deficiency than moisture inadequacy. But the later
is more appreciated than the former.

There are also wide differences in the consumption ratio of three major nutrients N : P2O5 : K2O
in different regions, crops and cropping systems. These differences also got magnified and
showed aberrations due to adhoc changes in pricing policy of fertilizers during the recent years.
This and the NPK ratio for India changed from 5.9 : 2.4 : 1.0 in 1991-92 to 9.7 : 2.9 : 1.0 in
1993-94. There is also divergence in ratios in different regions. While the ratio in 1995-96 was
41.4 : 8.5 : 1.0 in northern states and 3.8 : 1.4 : 1.0 in southern states. Such divergence in new
ratio is also due to the differences in the quality of land, inherent soil fertility, cropping systems
and degree of exploitive agriculture.

Soil test summarizes indicate that 98 per cent Indian soils have low to medium available
P and 60 per cent medium K status whereas, N continues to be universally deficient. 47 per cent
soils are deficient in Zn, 12 per cent Cu and 4 per cent in Mn. In some states and crops the
deficiency of B and Mo are also becoming limiting factors for crops production. In recent years a
phenomenal increase in S deficiency has been witnessed specially under intensive cropping
system where high analysis fertilizers devoid of S are used. The S deficiency is more pronounced
in crops like oil seeds, legumes and intensively fertilized rice and wheat. Infact, the spectrum of
S deficiency is increasing so rapidly that in future it will become on of the major yield limiting
factors. It is said that the planners are more concerned with the yield barriers of some high
yielding varieties but do not seem to be concerned with the rapidly changing scenario of plant
nutrient deficiency and the pivotal role of fertilizers in food security. Thus in a situation where
besides NPK the nutrients such as Zn, Fe, Mn, Cu, B and S are also becoming limiting factors, It
is unthinkable to have a sustained food security without balanced and integrated use of nutrients
from external sources. The spectrum of nutrient deficiency is becoming more apparent under
areas of intensive cropping systems which are the main contributors of National food stock of
Food Corporation of India. There are signs of yield stagnation and low responses to fertilizers
and other inputs because of imbalanced fertilizer use.

Nitrogen no doubt is the most limiting factor for Indian agriculture, but nitrogen alone is not
enough and fertilizer does not mean nitrogen fertilizers only. Lack of this appreciation has led to
poor results in most cases. Improving N use efficiency is the major problem for improving
economy of its use specially in rice growing areas.

Green manuring with legumes and other means of biological nitrogen fixations such as through
Blue Green Algae , Azolla, etc. can contribute to some of the N needs of rice crop but there are
numerous technological, economic and operational problems to their use. At best they can be
relied upon for 30 – 60 kg supply under good management. The efficiency of use of biofertilizers
is more crop specific, location specific and management specific and unless there is a reliable
system of quality control and a good system of storage, transportation and management in the
field, the expected contribution will not be realized.

No doubt the awareness of balanced use of fertilizers is growing, but enormously wide N : P : K
ratio are a matter of great concern. It is amazing that NPK ratios in Haryana during 1995-96 was
186 : 42 : 1 as against 64 : 14 : 1 in Punjab and 1.9 : 0.6 : 1 in Tamil Nadu as against 8.9 : 2.8 : 1
in whole of India. Bringing this ratio closer to the desirable ratio of 4 : 2 : 1 for cereals is
essential for maximizing the efficiency of fertilizers. The matter is more urgent lest in the long
run, disappointingly low yields result. The situation of P and K is more worrisome in India.

The declining use efficiency of fertilizers and of soil productivity are other matters of concern.
This fatiguing effect is more prominent in frontier states of green revolution such as Punjab,
Haryana, U.P. and other intensively cropped areas of the country. It has been estimated that
annually we are robbing the soil of more nutrients in the form of biomass than returning to it in
the form of fertilizer and manures. The annual negative balance seems to be of the order of about
10 mt of NPK. It will become manifold when we attempt doubling the productivity and
production. If this nutrient drain continues, the sustained high productivity and sustainability of
agriculture will be an impossible task.

India is adding every year population to one Australia and New Zealand and it is estimated that
by 2025 the population of the country will touch 1.4 billion mark. For feeding such a large
population, India may need about 300 million tones of foodgrains annually. It may require 35-45
mt of nutrients from both organic and inorganic sources of fertilizers. Besides these it will also
need thousand tones of Zn, Fe, Mn, Cu and B.

It is not only the huge amounts of fertilizer nutrients which matters but also the use efficiency
and management system which will determine their economics or benefit/ cost ratio is equally
important. Thus the key to future national food security and national security lies in balanced and
integrated supply and management system, and there is no alternative to it. Balanced fertilizer
use is also necessary to improve the economics or profitability of fertilizer use which provides
incentive to farmer for its efficient use. It also improves the quality of the produce which is very
much in demand for the export market as well as for home market. It hardly needs to be stressed
that many wrong notions about fertilizer use spoiling the soil quality are related to imbalanced
and imprudent use of nitrogenous fertilizers only.

No single source of plant nutrient, whether it is chemical fertilizer or organic manure or green
manure or biofertilizer or crop residue is in a position to meet the growing crop nutrient need.
Moreover, the right kind of nutrients required by the crop crops may not be achieved from a
single source. For example different chemical fertilizers can supply the nutrients like N, P, K, Zn
and S; Green manuring use can meet a part of nitrogen requirement, one tone organic manure
can add about 12 kg NPK and also some micronutrients; crop residue like rice straw is a good
source of potassium and use of biofertilizers can supply nitrogen @ 20-25 kg/ha and mobilize
soil phosphorus. This implies that integrated use of plant nutrients is essential mainly for two
obvious reasons (i) to increase nutrient supply and (ii) practice balanced fertilization. In addition
integrated use of different sources of plant nutrient helps to increase their efficiencies and also
crop productivity.

All out efforts should be made to educate farmers to practice balanced use of fertilizers. Of late,
some fertilizer companies and associations have come forward to educate the villagers,
publication of literature in regional languages related to balanced use of fertilizers for higher
crop yields in a sustainable way. The actual time has come, the farmers, researchers and other
related communities should come forward and act in this respect. The chemical fertilizers should
be used judiciously and use manures along with chemical fertilizers for improving the crop yield
and soil productivity in a sustainable way. Many more activities are being planned to promote
the balanced use of fertilizers. And it is hoped that all these efforts would lead to desired
awareness and as a result balanced fertilizer use would become a reality in near future.