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How to Apply Fertilizers? Complete Guide

by Achim Dobermann
Published: Last Updated on
How to Apply Fertilizers

Fertilizer application is a crucial aspect of crop management as it plays a vital role in ensuring plant growth and yields. Applying fertilizer requires careful consideration of various factors, including the type of fertilizer, crop type, soil type, and nutrient requirements. In this article, we will explore the various aspects of how to apply fertilizers efficiently.

Fertilizers can be organic or inorganic. Organic fertilizers are derived from natural sources, such as animal manure and compost, while inorganic fertilizers are manufactured from chemical compounds. Examples of fertilizers include nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (NPK) fertilizers, urea, ammonium nitrate, and ammonium sulfate.

International Fertilizer Association indicated that in 2020, the global consumption of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (NPK) fertilizers was approximately 184 million tonnes, 51 million tonnes, and 38 million tonnes, respectively.

Furthermore, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Asia is the largest consumer of fertilizers, accounting for about 60% of global consumption. China is the world’s largest consumer and producer of fertilizers, accounting for approximately 30% of global consumption and 33% of global production.

There are different methods of applying fertilizer, and the choice of method depends on the type of fertilizer and the desired results. The three primary methods of fertilizer application are:

  1. Broadcast method: This method involves spreading fertilizer uniformly over the entire area using a spreader or hand. It is suitable for crops that do not require precise placement of nutrients and are widely spaced, such as cereals and forage crops.
  2. Banding method: This method involves placing the fertilizer in bands or rows close to the plant roots. It is suitable for crops that require precise placement of nutrients and are planted in rows, such as vegetables and fruits.
  3. Foliar method: This method involves applying fertilizer directly to the leaves of the plant. It is suitable for crops that require rapid nutrient uptake and have a short growing season, such as vegetables and fruits.

Moreover, fertilizer can be applied using different instruments, including hand-operated spreaders, backpack sprayers, and tractor-mounted spreaders. The choice of instrument depends on the size of the area to be covered, the type of fertilizer, and the method of application.

Application Procedure

The application procedure for fertilizer varies depending on the type of fertilizer, crop type, soil type, and nutrient requirements. However, the following steps provide a general guideline for applying fertilizers:

Step 1: Soil Testing: The first step in applying fertilizer is to conduct soil testing. Soil testing helps determine the nutrient content of the soil and identifies any deficiencies or excesses. This information is essential for determining the type and amount of fertilizer needed for the crop.

Step 2: Choose the Right Fertilizer: Based on the soil test results, choose the appropriate fertilizer for the crop. Fertilizers contain different nutrients, and it is important to select one that contains the nutrients the crop needs. For example, if the soil test shows that the soil lacks nitrogen, choose a fertilizer that contains nitrogen.


Step 3: Determine the Application Rate: The recommended application rate for the chosen fertilizer will depend on the crop type, soil type, and nutrient requirements. It is essential to follow the recommended application rate to avoid over or under-application, which can lead to negative environmental and economic impacts.


Step 4: Choose the Application Method: There are several methods of applying fertilizer, including broadcasting, banding, side-dressing, and fertigation. The choice of application method will depend on the crop type, soil type, and nutrient requirements. For example, banding is a suitable method for crops with deep root systems, while side-dressing is ideal for crops with shallow root systems.


Step 5: Apply the Fertilizer: Once the application rate and method have been determined, apply the fertilizer. If using a spreader, calibrate it to ensure accurate application. Apply the fertilizer evenly to avoid over or under-application. It is also essential to avoid application near water bodies or areas with high slopes to prevent nutrient runoff.

Step 6: Timing and Duration: The timing and duration of fertilizer application will depend on the crop type and growth stage. It is essential to apply the fertilizer at the appropriate time to ensure maximum nutrient uptake by the crop. Furthermore, fertilizer application may be required at different growth stages to ensure sustained plant growth.

Step 7: Post-Application Monitoring: After fertilizer application, monitor the effects on soil health, water quality, and biodiversity. This will help determine the effectiveness of the application and identify any potential negative impacts that need to be addressed. Monitoring also helps in determining the need for additional fertilizer applications or adjustments to application rates.

Concerns And Management To Apply Fertilizers

The effects of fertilizer application on the environment and human health are of scientific concern. Fertilizers can contribute to eutrophication, soil degradation, loss of biodiversity, and negative impacts on human health. Here are some examples:

  • Environmental pollution: When fertilizers are overused, they can run off into nearby water sources and cause harmful algae blooms. These blooms can deplete oxygen levels in the water, leading to the death of aquatic animals. Additionally, fertilizer runoff can cause eutrophication, which is the process of excessive nutrient buildup in water that can lead to harmful algal blooms.
  • Soil degradation: Overuse of fertilizers can lead to soil acidification, which can negatively impact soil health and fertility. This can lead to decreased crop yields and can also contribute to soil erosion.
  • Health problems: Some fertilizers contain heavy metals such as cadmium and lead, which can accumulate in crops and cause health problems in people who consume them. For example, high levels of cadmium in the diet have been linked to kidney damage and increased risk of cancer.
  • Air pollution: When fertilizers are applied to fields, they can release ammonia into the air. Ammonia can contribute to air pollution and can also react with other pollutants to form harmful particles that can be inhaled into the lungs.
  • Climate change: The production and use of fertilizers can contribute to climate change by releasing greenhouse gases such as nitrous oxide into the atmosphere. Nitrous oxide is a potent greenhouse gas that can trap heat in the atmosphere and contribute to global warming.

To mitigate these effects, it is essential to use fertilizers judiciously and follow recommended application rates. Furthermore, the use of precision agriculture techniques, such as variable rate application, can help minimize nutrient loss and environmental impact. Additionally, the use of organic fertilizers can help reduce the reliance on inorganic fertilizers and promote soil health.

In conclusion, it is very important that a farmer should know how to apply fertilizers efficiently as applying fertilizer is a critical aspect of crop management. Further, its effectiveness depends on the careful consideration of various factors. The methods, instruments, and procedures for fertilizer application vary depending on these factors, and it is essential to follow recommended application rates and use fertilizers judiciously to avoid negative impacts. By adopting responsible and sustainable fertilizer application practices, farmers can promote healthy crop growth and ensure a sustainable future for agriculture.

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