DEFRA have published the latest data on the use of fertiliser in UK agriculture. Long term data shows that the use of Nitrogen fertiliser on crops and grass on UK farms peaked in the mid 1980s at 1,674 thousand tonnes, when concerns over the impact on the environment, policy changes, and economic pressures lead to farmers to start moving towards less intensive, lower input systems of production. There was a significant sharp drop in 1992 with the introduction of set-aside as part of reform of the CAP. By 2005 total use was 1,061 thousand tonnes, and has been relatively stable since. During 2014 UK farmers applied 1,060 thousand tonnes of nitrogen fertiliser – 6.1% up on 2013.
There is a similar pattern with phosphate, which also peaked in the mid 1980s, before a decline, but has been stable since 2007. In 2014 farmers used 201 thousand tonnes of phosphate – 3.6% up on 2013. The use of potash was highest in the mid 1980s through to 1999, before declining sharply. In 2014 284 thousand tonnes of potash were used, which was 6.4% up on 2013.
A ‘blip’ occurred in 2009 when a spike in energy prices, along with increased demand due to high farm commodity prices lead to a spike in fertiliser prices. Falling energy prices in 2015 should continue to put downward pressure on fertiliser costs for farmers.