by Adam Mostert, Chief Executive Officer

Key to growth

Fertilizers, soil fertility and plant nutrition: Part One


The South African fertilizer industry has undergone structural changes since the beginning of the century. It has been transformed from an industry with a few large fertilizer producers to an import-dependent industry with a longer supply chain, including about 80 smaller blenders. The resultant competition amongst suppliers at farm level gives crop producers a multitude of options.

Services provided by the fertilizer industry

Services form a key element of the local fertilizer industry. A supplier is often selected not because of the price of their fertilizer but rather because of the services they offer to crop producers. These services may include soil, leaf and plant material sampling; laboratory analysis; fertilizer recommendations and prescriptions; medium- and long-term soil fertility planning; problem solving (diagnosis); fertilizer applicator calibration; and many more. Commercial farmers depend heavily on experts in the fertilizer industry to manage their soil fertility and regard these experts as part of their farm’s management team. It is interesting to follow the fertilizer industry as it plays an increasingly bigger role in the development of emerging farmers, both in South Africa and in other countries.


The Fertilizer Association of Southern Africa (Fertasa, previously known as FSSA) has also undergone changes to adapt to the evolving needs of the industry. As a result, we have seen an increase in membership numbers from 19 in 2012 to 48 in 2016. All of our members are represented on the board of directors and may participate in the association’s committee meetings.

Our vision is to be recognised as the representative voice of the fertilizer industry and as the stamp of approval for responsible and sustainable soil fertility and plant nutrition in Southern Africa. As part of this vision, we publish the Fertilizer Handbook, a collection of scientific principles and guidelines supported by Fertasa and our members. This handbook has recently been revised by an expert panel of Fertasa members, some non-members and third-party specialists. The Afrikaans version (Bemestingshandleiding) went on sale in October 2016, while the English edition is expected to be available from January 2017. The handbook is not only used by fertilizer advisors and farmers; it is also prescribed by universities and agricultural colleges.

Fertasa is very active in the agricultural and fertilizer communities. It facilitates much of this interaction through its annual congress and symposium. The Fertasa Congress focuses on the business side of the industry, while the Soil Fertility and Plant Nutrition Symposium is scientific by nature and addresses fertilizer practices. Local and international experts are invited to present papers at these events.

Fertasa’s members are importers, producers, distributors and blenders of inorganic and organic fertilizers, agricultural lime and bio-fertilizer products. Thus our members encompass the full value chain and all three fertilizer groups defined in the Regulations of Act 36 of 1947.

Fertasa collaborates closely with the Registrar of Act 36 and the Agri-Laboratory Association of Southern Africa (AgriLASA). The latter operates a comprehensive proficiency scheme to ensure that all fertilizer, water, soil, plant and animal feed analyses are consistently monitored and evaluated. Fertasa’s members are advised to use AgriLASA-certified laboratories as their analyses have been calibrated for various crops, which serve as the basis for the fertilizer guidelines.

Credibility of the fertilizer industry

The world population increased by 37.7% from 5.3 billion in 1990 to 7.3 billion in July 2015 and is estimated to reach 9.7 billion in 2050. The South African population alone increased by more than 50% over the same period, up to 2015. Without fertilizer, food shortages, famine and starvation would threaten one-third of the world’s population. Nutrient deficiencies in soil, for example zinc, lead to deficiencies in humans, especially in areas where community members depend on the food produced in their region.

With one in three people already dependent on fertilizer, sustainable soil fertility is crucial in a world where the demand for food is increasing at an alarming rate with the ever-growing human population. Fertasa’s main purpose is to promote responsible and sustainable soil fertility and plant nutrition through credibility of the industry.

Also, the integrity of the fertilizer industry is non-negotiable in developing and maintaining food producers’ trust. Fertilizers constitute a major portion of the input cost of crop production, so producers need to have confidence in the entities they deal with and be sure that the products are worth the investment.

Fertasa has taken action to ensure that its members have the facilities, systems and knowledge to produce fertilizer products according to set specifications and that will not harm the environment. This is done by means of a third-party audit based on the Fertasa Code of Conduct, which covers all the relevant legislation such as Act 36 of 1947, environmental laws, and safety and health guidelines. Once a member has been audited and Fertasa is given the go-ahead by the auditors, we issue a Code of Conduct Compliance certificate. This certificate gives the member the right to use the seal of compliance on their documentation and their fertilizer products’ packaging.

Fertilizer users are encouraged to look out for the Fertasa seal of approval.

Fertilizer product registrations

One of the main frustrations in the fertilizer industry is the delay associated with product registrations executed by the Registrar’s office in the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF). Incorrect and incomplete applications often contribute to the delay in approval.

In 2014 Fertasa introduced a service whereby applications for registration are scrutinised by in-house experts before being submitted to DAFF. In 2014 and 2016 Fertasa also arranged fertilizer product registration workshops for members and non-members.

This service and the workshops have already helped to shorten the approval period, but constraints in the Registrar’s office make it extremely difficult to deal with new applications coming in and the backlog that has developed over time. After discussions with the Registrar, Fertasa decided to second Prof Robin Barnard and Vusi Mashele on a part-time basis to DAFF, to assist with the evaluation of applications. When the assistance started in May 2016 the backlog ran at least eight months behind. By October the backlog was down to four months. We will continue to assist DAFF until the backlog has been eliminated.

Fertilizer regulations

The Minister of Agriculture has the right and obligation to publish fertilizer Regulations in terms of Act 36 of 1947, with the most recent being published in September 2012. Fertasa identified about 20 errors therein and proposed corrections. The revised Regulations are awaiting approval by the minister before being published in the Government Gazette.

Fertasa is also planning a workshop to discuss the changes and interpretation of the Regulations in general. This workshop will cover the guidelines for the registration of Group 3 fertilizers and will be held on 30 March 2017 at the CSIR in Pretoria. Please send an email to Monique for more information.


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Issue 46


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