Expected organic fertiliser market rise

Production of compost is expected to grow over the next decade.

As we strive to achieve zero waste in the fertiliser nutrient circular economy the interest in the organic and organo-mineral (OF/OMF) fertiliser sectors has grown. These emerging OF/OMF refined fertiliser products and markets are expanding and now have access to the EU Single Market under the new EU Fertilising Products Regulation (FPR).

SUSFERT is pleased to run an editorial from the European Sustainable Phosphorus Platform (ESPP) summing up the major findings of the Second Summit of the Organic and Organo-Mineral Fertiliser Industry (SOFIE2) in Europe, organised by the ESPP and held in Brussels in January 2023.

Delivering safe, high-quality nutrients for sustainable food security requires good, reactive policy that is responsive to the needs of farmers and many others in the fertiliser value chain. SOFIE targets refined organic fertiliser products, different from unprocessed (or simply solid/liquid separated or stabilised) organic by-products such as manure, digestate, food industry sludge.

Europe needs to assess how these products should be developed, supported and applied and, more importantly, how they impact soil health, the environment and crop productivity.

Organisers of the event from the ESPP (l-r): Secretary General, Christopher Thornton, President, Robert Van Spingelen, and Brussels Representative, Veronica Santoro.

What is SOFIE about?

President of the ESPP, Robert Van Spingelen, said that the SOFIE meetings were intended to act as a networking forum for fertiliser producers, secondary material suppliers, science and research, advisory and consultancy service companies, regulators, and policy makers to share experiences, concerns and challenges within the OF/OMF sectors and markets.

The Summit was held at the time when farmers and others in the food value chain had been battling with high inflation, making it timely to gather major fertiliser producers, associations and regulatory bodies to discuss further the opportunities for organic fertilisers that avert reliance on strategic resources, such as natural gas or rock phosphate. EUROFEMA, ECOFI, Fertilizers Europe and the International Fertilizer Society (IFS) supported the second SOFIE meeting.

Where do organic and organo-mineral fertilisers come from? Read the Eurostat Glossary Fertiliser Tree

European Commission DG Agriculture, Oliver Sitar, explains the fertiliser communiqué to the audience.

In a joint editorial for SUSFERT, ESPP Secretary General, Christopher Thornton, and ESPP Brussels Representative, Veronica Santoro, highlight details of the growing interest in the OF/OMF sector.

SOFIE2 is currently the only event that fosters dialogue within the various interest groups of the organic fertiliser industry.

The full summary of SOFIE2 has been published in the ESPP SCOPE Newsletter N° 146.

The major take-aways from SOFIE2 were:

OF/OMFs are recognised as a real market for refined products.

Significant growth in OF/OMFs is expected both in Europe and for global exports.

Development of the Nutrient Circular Economy through organic and organo-mineral fertilisers is recognised as key to improving EU fertiliser supply resilience and food security, and will contribute to sustainability and carbon storage objectives.

The current fertilisers supply and price crisis opens opportunities to accelerate innovation and policy changes.

Production of digestates and compost are expected to grow in the coming decade — Leon Fock, EUROFEMA — European Organic Fertiliser Manufacturer Association.

EU biomethane and biowaste policies are underway.

Many questions still outstanding from science and regulation.

More effort and investments needed to develop technologies for improved fertiliser performance.

Leon Fock, Chairman of EUROFEMA, pictured with SUSFERT AGRANA partner, Rüdiger Weichesmüller.

SUSFERT partners joined and met other European stakeholders at the Summit with a poster presentation. SUSFERT was pleased to network with fellow European projects, including H2020 fertiliser project Lex4Bio.

SUSFERT Project Manager, Mikael Muegge (centre) and SUSFERT AGRANA partner, Rüdiger Weichesmüller, explains the project to former ESPP President, Ludwig Hermann.

SOFIE2 editorial summarising the findings of the meeting

SOFIE2 attracted over 230 participants and stakeholders from industry, regulators and R&D – 130 people attended the Brussels’ event in person, and over 100 people joined online. The event included presentations, posters and stands by fertiliser producers, technology and raw material providers, researchers, EU and national regulators, industry federations, and certification organizations.

SOFIE2 confirmed the considerable enthusiasm and interest in this growing sector that is being restructured due to its strategic importance for the nutrient circular economy. The event also showed active engagement by upstream sectors supplying raw materials for the fertiliser industry. Of note, the use of digestates and compost are on the rise with production expected to grow considerably in the coming decade. Additionally, EU biomethane and biowaste policies are underway.

Other relevant stakeholders at the meeting were the organic fertiliser producers, processing equipment suppliers, as well as the mineral fertiliser industry that is motivated by the compatible nature of organic and mineral nutrients for crop nutrition, where existing market and logistic synergies can be further commercially exploited.

SOFIE2 sessions addressed:

Agronomic benefits: scientific evidence and expertise from industry on how organic-based fertilisers impact soil health, environment, and crop productivity.

Market and technologies: input, expertise, and insights from key industry players in innovative areas for the raw material sourcing, processing and application of organic-based fertilising products.

Circularity and climate change: contribution of organic fertilisers to soil regeneration and the reduction of the carbon footprint of agri-food chains.

Latest regulatory developments: updates from EU regulators, national authorities, and insights into the certification process by notified bodies.

Organic, organo-mineral fertiliser market in crisis context

Organic and organo-mineral fertilisers (OF/OMFs) now have access to the EU Single Market under the new EU Fertilising Products Regulation (FPR). They are recognised as a real market segment for refined products offering specific agronomic performance characteristics for different crops and soils. Processing technologies deliver products adapted to farmers’ agronomic requirements, spreading equipment, and to market logistics.

Current fertiliser market developments offer a great potential for organic fertilisers, as was outlined by Alberto Persona, Principal Analyst P&K Fertecon, S&P Global Commodity Insights.

Persona presented the market analysis in the context of the recent fertiliser crisis where mineral fertiliser prices in 2022 increased beyond what was expected with fears over adequate supply from Russia and China meeting projected demand. This shortage was an effect of the exertion of EU sanctions on Russian fertiliser exports due to the Ukraine War. Persona said that the fertiliser supply and price crisis offered opportunities to accelerate innovation in the organic fertiliser sector and the necessary changes in policy to accommodate this.

Fertiliser nutrients that can be derived from organic secondary resources in Europe are significant (manure, sewage, food waste, etc.), but the biggest obstacle to their efficient agronomic re-use is distance of the transport from the site of recovery (regions with high animal or human populations where organic secondary resources are produced) to the actual fields where they will be used.

In addition, as reminded by Jacob Hansen, Director, Fertilizers Europe, mineral and organic fertilisers are complementary, and data shows that, to maintain European agricultural productivity, mineral nutrients must be added to those present in secondary materials to an additional extent of 20-45% for nitrogen and 45% for phosphorus (see table 1 from RISE 2016).

TOTAL N               in stream Recycled N TOTAL P            in stream Recycled P
Raw manure 7-9 7.1 1.8? 1.75
Food chain waste
Household waste 0.5-0.7 0.16 0.11 0.03
Slaughterhouse waste ? ? 0.28 0.02
Sewage 2.3-3.1 0.5 0.32 0.10
Totals of these streams > 10-13 >7.8 2.5 1.9
Current recycling (%) 60-80%   76%
Not recycled (Mt) 2-5   0.6
For comparison, mineral fertiliser use in crop production (Mt) 10.9   1.4
Not recycled nutrient as percent of mineral fertiliser 18-46%   43%

Table 1: Gross estimation of recycled (recovered/collected + reused) amounts of N and P (Mt) for the three selected waste streams (Buckwell, A. Nadeu, E. 2016. Nutrient Recovery and Reuse (NRR) in European agriculture. A review of the issues, opportunities, and actions. RISE Foundation, Brussels)

Regulatory update, link between EU and national regulations

The European Commission Legal Officer from DG GROW, Ana-Lucia Crisan, explained that the EU Fertilising Products Regulation 2019/1009 (FPR), which has currently been in force since summer 2022, has created an EU market for organic and organo-mineral fertilisers.

She said that the importance of nutrient recycling was further outlined in the European Commission Communiqué on fertilisers. The communiqué covers the availability and affordability of fertilisers, and other opportunities in EU policies for organic-based fertilisers and nutrient recycling, including the link to biomethane development (digestate upgrading to fertiliser products).

Meanwhile, European Commission DG Agriculture, Oliver Sitar, explained that these initiatives would be further elaborated and contextualized in the planned Soil Health Directive and Horizon Europe R&D funding.

Important amendments have already been integrated into the EU FPR since its adoption, and are now in force (for example, the ‘STRUBIAS’ criteria for precipitated phosphates, ash-based materials, biochars and pyrolysis materials), and further amendments are under discussion. The Commission will continue to consider inclusion of further materials into Component Material Categories (CMCs), where justified by potentially significant EU trade.

Presentations at SOFIE2 also addressed interactions between the EU FPR and national regulations with Finbarr O’Regan (Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine, Ireland) and Murray Smedley (Barkwith Associates, UK).

EU fertilising product certification of organic and organo-mineral fertilising products

The Commission has developed considerable guidance material to support companies, certification bodies (Notified Bodies) and Member States. These include the Frequently Asked Questions document (which is regularly completed and updated), and the published Guidance on Labelling. In addition, under contract from DG GROW, the Nutrient Management Institute (The Netherlands), represented by Laura Van Schöll, is developing a Guidance on Technical Documentation for the FPR.

Presentations from Notified Bodies elaborated on the functioning of the certification process:

Module B enables certification on the basis of documentation provided by the fertiliser producer to the Notified Body, without requirement of onsite audits. This was presented by Giel Tettelaar, EFCI.

Module D1 certification is instead applicable to any EU fertilising product containing waste-derived or animal by-product-derived inputs (CMCs 3, 5, 12, 13, 14, 15), and may also be a good option for companies which already have a quality assurance system in place, or which have many different or new products (e.g. tailor-made products for different clients). This was presented by Dorottya Lõrincz, CerTrust.

The need for more data

Andrea Schievano, European Commission Joint Research Centre giving the audience an overview of what is available in the area of research on the topic.

The agronomic effectiveness of organic and organo-mineral fertilisers is recognised, as is testified by the impressive number of studies on use of manure or organic fertilisers (over 31,000 publications were identified by Andrea Schievano from the European Commission Joint Research Centre, JRC), and the increasing number on organo-mineral fertilisers (around 450).

There is, nevertheless, still a need for evidence and further field demonstrations of performance with specific crops, in different European soils and climates, to generate more metrics supporting a particular fertiliser’s performance claims. Emma Burak (Yara) and Esteve Casoliba (Unimer), stressed the need for further field data on the nitrogen-release time-curve for organic fertiliser nitrogen in different conditions, as well as on the complete Life Cycle Analysis of organic fertiliser production through to its use in the field (including soil carbon storage, N losses in application and from soils).

Measures to be considered

The new EU Fertilising Products Regulation (FPR) is recognized as a significant step forward, opening the EU market for organic and organo-mineral fertilisers, also for processing technologies. However, significant challenges remain in the implementation of the Regulation.

In particular (underlined by various organisations), is the need to integrate Animal By-Product inputs (especially manure), which are still today totally excluded from the EU-label fertilizing products.

It is also important that “alternative” temperature-time processing requirements, for which safety is demonstrated by experience of application under national regulations, be validated for inclusion into the FPR.

According to the farmers’ association COPA-COGECA (represented by Pekka Pesonen), the action of the EU Commission is too centred on mineral fertilisers and does not sufficiently support the development of organic-based fertilisers. More financial support is needed by farmers given the current price crisis for fertilisers and other intrants.

Participants also underlined that there are still very few Notified Bodies (certification organisations) validated for conformity assessment of organic fertilisers and that there are many ongoing questions concerning the interpretation, limits to CMC materials, downstream formulation information obligations, as well as other open points.

Final considerations and future growth

SOFIE2 confirmed the considerable enthusiasm and interest in this growing and restructuring sector, which is strategic for the nutrient circular economy. However, many questions still need to be tackled, both from the scientific and regulatory point of view. Finally, more effort and investments are needed to develop technologies and ways to improve the performance of fertilisers.

Why SUSFERT appreciated SOFIE2 in Brussels!

Partners from SUSFERT all had various motivations to attend the event.

First, the project disseminated its research by means of a displayed poster.

Second, partners were able to network with a wide range of stakeholders across the various sectors in the fertiliser world. Many issues around the topic of fertilisers and the potential of organic fertilisers became more tangible.

Third, it was excellent to meet other researchers and partners from fellow European projects.

Fourth, ESPP Secretary General, Christopher Thornton, was an excellent compere. The discussion around the presentations was informative, provocative, and very nicely summarised after each session.


The SUSFERT partners at the event.

Next SUSFERT #Conference #Coffee #Break #Blog

SUSFERT partner Marc Spiller from the University of Antwerp with Project Manager, Mikael Muegge.

The next SUSFERT #Conference #Coffee #Break #Blog will be from SUSFERT partner, Marc Spiller, from the University of Antwerp. He will tell us all we need to know about struvite — one of nature’s phosphates — including knowledge gleaned from research on SUSFERT.