For centuries man used rudimentary techniques in his endeavors to fertilize the soil and make crops grow, however it was only after Justus von Liebig established conclusively that “green plants can be nourished by mineral salts in solution and specified that there are three essential elements for plant growth Nitrogen (N), Phosphorus (P) and Potassium (K)” that the industrial production of chemical fertilizers developed onwards from the 1880’s.
By 1888 the French had passed the first laws governing the use of fertilizers which required in particular that the manufacturer indicate the percentage of the nutrients (N, P and K) and their origin which remained in place until the late 1970’s when the rapid development of agriculture and emergence of new products especially fertilizer mixtures made it’s revision necessary. Today there are complex laws governing the manufacture of fertilizers and their use through-out the world.
Agricultural research and development has proven extremely successful over the past century increasing crop production ensuring food security for an ever-growing world population through improved genetics, crop protection, the efficient use of fertilizers and advanced understanding of plant and soil chemistry and nutrition.
Numerous other factors that influence and benefit plant growth have been identified and used advantageously as “biostimulants” and “biofertilizers”. The benefits of leguminous crops on the soil had been recognized for centuries however in was only in 1901 that biological nitrogen fixation was first discovered and in the 1950’s that research started to make headway. The symbiotic effects of fungi with plant roots was first studied in the 1880’s and the term mycorrhiza was introduced in 1885. The discovery of Plant Growth Substances began with Darwin’s discovery of Auxins in 1880 followed by Ethylene in 1917, Gibberellins in 1926, Cytokinins in the 1950’s and Abscisic acid in 1963. Seaweeds have historically also been used as fertilizers but use declined with the advent of chemical fertilizers. In the 1970’s the beneficial effects of the brown seaweed Ecklonia maxima (kelp) were identified and extraction methods of the cellular content developed; in 1983 the first doctoral thesis on the beneficial properties of its extracts was published.
Over the past two decades there has been tremendous worldwide growth and development of the Biofertilizers, Biostimulants and Biopesticides market which is now a fast growing and lucrative segment of the crop chemicals industry. By definition these products are classified as fertilizers and are subject to world-wide regulation just like conventional fertilizers. The registration of these products and international law governing their use are however far more complex as in many cases involve the use of living organisms and metabolites which may have environmental implications; they are regulated by Act 36 of 1947 as Group 3 fertilizers and at least 8 other Acts of legislation in South Africa.
In February 2016 the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) published their guidelines for the registration of Group 3 Fertilizers, these can be accessed on the following link:
In November 2017 FERTASA hosted a Biofertilizer Workshop which was open to the industry at which various speakers presented topics covering, The International Scene: Historical, Development and Regulatory Frameworks; Biofertilizers, Biostimulants and Biopesticides: Definitions, Differences and Challenges; Soil Health and Soil Condition: Concepts Claims and Quantification and South African Regulatory framework followed by open discussion on the path forward.
Over the next four weeks I publish a review of each of the topics referred to above covering the insights and learnings from the workshop.