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NPK fertilizer is a complex fertilizer comprised primarily of the three primary nutrients required for healthy plant growth. The agriculture industry relies heavily on the use of NPK fertilizer to meet global food supply and ensure healthy crops.

According to the IFDC, about half of the global population is alive as a result of the increased food production provided by the use of mineral fertilizers.

NPK Fertilizer: Components

There are numerous building blocks of life that plants need for healthy and optimum growth. Without these nutrients, plants cannot grow to their full potential, will provide lower yields, and be more susceptible to disease.

The three most important nutrients, without any one of which plants could not survive, are referred to as the primary macronutrients: Nitrogen (N), Phosphorus (P), and Potassium (K).

Soils often lack these nutrients, either naturally, or as a result of over-cultivation or other environmental factors. In cases where soils are lacking, nutrients must be put back into the soil in order to create the ideal environment for optimal plant growth.

Each of the primary nutrients is essential in plant nutrition, serving a critical role in the growth, development, and reproduction of the plant.

The Role of Nitrogen in Plants

Nitrogen is a key component in many of the processes needed to carry out growth. In particular, nitrogen is vital to chlorophyll, which allows plants to carry out photosynthesis (the process by which they take in sunlight to produce sugars from carbon dioxide and water). Nitrogen is also a significant component in amino acids, the basis of proteins. Nitrogen also aids in the compounds that allow for storage and use of energy.

One study looked at US cereal yields and how they were affected by omitting nitrogen fertilizer. The study estimated that without nitrogen, average yields for corn declined by a staggering 41%, rice by 37%, barley by 19%, and wheat by 16%.

Sources of Nitrogen

While nitrogen can be taken in and converted into a usable nutrient from the atmosphere, and may be naturally present in soils, it is almost always desirable to supplement nitrogen to ensure plants have the optimum amount available to them. The following materials can be included in NPK blends as a source of nitrogen:

Common Inorganic Sources of N in NPK Blends

  • Urea
  • Urea Ammonium Nitrate
  • Anyhdrous Ammonia

Common Organic Sources of N in NPK Blends

  • Manure
  • Compost
  • Blood Meal
  • Feather Meal

Phosphorus (P)

Phosphorus also plays a role in an array of functions necessary for healthy plant growth, contributing to structural strength, crop quality, seed production, and more. Phosphorus also encourages the growth of roots, promotes blooming, and is essential in DNA.

The transformation of solar energy into usable compounds is also largely possible because of  phosphorus.

Source: FEECO International.