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Urea Gold

  • 17 Aug 2023
  • 8 min read

For Prelims: Urea Gold, Neem Coated Urea, Liquid Nano Urea, Leguminous crops, Nitrogen-phosphorus-potassium (NPK), Nitrogen use efficiency.

For Mains: Features of Urea Gold, Status of Urea Consumption in India.

Source: IE

Why in News?

Recently, Indian Prime Minister officially launched ‘Urea Gold’ fertiliser'. It is developed by Rashtriya Chemicals and Fertilizers Ltd (RCF), a leading fertilizer and chemical manufacturing company in India in the Public Sector.

What is Urea Gold?

  • About: Urea Gold is created by infusing urea with sulfur, creating a composite fertilizer with 37% nitrogen (N) and 17% sulfur (S).
    • This nutrient blend serves two primary objectives: fulfilling sulfur requirements in Indian soils and enhancing nitrogen use efficiency (NUE).

Note: Normal urea contains 46% of a single plant nutrient: Nitrogen or N.

  • Features:
    • Addressing Soil Deficiencies: Indian soils frequently lack sulfur, an essential element particularly crucial for oilseeds and pulses.
      • By incorporating sulfur into the fertilizer composition, 'Urea Gold' aims to provide a comprehensive nutrient package, thus catering to the specific needs of crops reliant on sulfur.
    • Enhancing Nitrogen Efficiency: A key innovation of 'Urea Gold' is its ability to improve nitrogen use efficiency (NUE).
      • The sulfur coating on urea enables a gradual release of nitrogen, leading to prolonged nutrient availability.
      • As a result, plants maintain their greenness for an extended duration. This phenomenon allows farmers to reduce the frequency of usage.
        • Farmers tend to apply urea when they notice the leaves turning yellowish.
    • Potential Yield Increase: 'Urea Gold' has the potential to increase crop yields through improved nutrient utilization.
      • The gradual release of nutrients minimizes wastage and enhances the nutrient uptake by plants, ultimately translating into enhanced productivity.

What is the Status of Urea Consumption in India?

  • About Urea:
    • Urea is a white crystalline compound commonly used as a synthetic fertilizers in agriculture.
    • When applied to the soil or crops, urea is broken down by enzymes into ammonia and carbon dioxide.
      • The ammonia then gets converted into ammonium ions, which can be taken up by plant roots and used for growth and development.
  • Status of Consumption in India:
    • Urea is India’s most widely used fertiliser, with its consumption/sales rising from 26.7 million tonnes (mt) to 35.7 mt between 2009-10 and 2022-23.
  • Interventions Similar to Urea Gold:
    • Neem Coated Urea: This is a modified form of urea that is coated with neem oil.
      • It reduces the leaching and volatilization losses of nitrogen, has insecticidal and nematicidal properties, and improves the soil texture and water holding capacity.
    • Liquid Nano Urea: This is a nanotechnology-based fertilizer that is sprayed on leaves and is assimilated by the plant cells.
      • It enhances the nutritional quality and productivity of the crop, reduces the fertilizer consumption, improves the nitrogen use efficiency, and saves the input costs.
  • Challenges:
    • Urea Imports and Feedstock Dependency: In 2022-23, 7.6 million metric tons (mt) of urea were imported out of a total of 35.7 mt sold, raising significant apprehensions.
      • Even domestically produced urea heavily relies on imported natural gas, the essential feedstock for production.
    • Nitrogen Use Efficiency (NUE) and Loss: Around 65% of applied N is lost to various factors: ammonia gas release into the atmosphere and nitrate leaching underground after conversion.
      • The decline in NUE has led to a situation where farmers need to apply increasingly more fertilizer to achieve the same crop yield.
    • Subsidy Burden: Urea is heavily subsidized by the Indian government to ensure affordable prices for farmers.
      • However, this subsidy has led to issues of overuse and inefficiencies in urea consumption.
      • Farmers often apply more urea than necessary due to its low cost, which can result in imbalanced nutrient application and environmental degradation.

Way Forward

  • Fortifications: Fortification of urea, DAP (Di-ammonium Phosphate) and other commodity fertilisers with micronutrients is the way forward for boosting crop yields and maximising the use efficiency of imported nutrients .
    • Since India has limited natural gas, rock phosphate, potash, and sulfur reserves, these fertilizers should be coated with secondary nutrients (calcium and magnesium) and micronutrients (zinc, boron, manganese, molybdenum, iron, copper and nickel) instead.
  • Precision Agriculture: Implementing precision agriculture techniques, such as variable rate application, can help optimize urea use by tailoring fertilizer application rates based on specific crop and soil needs.
    • This prevents overuse and reduces nutrient wastage.
  • Nutrient Management Planning: Encouraging farmers to adopt comprehensive nutrient management plans can ensure balanced fertilizer application, considering the nitrogen-phosphorus-potassium (NPK) needs of crops.
    • This approach minimizes the overreliance on urea and promotes the efficient use of other nutrients with optimum balance (N: P: K= 4:2:1).
  • Crop Rotation and Diversification: Promoting diverse cropping patterns and crop rotation can reduce the excessive demand for urea.
    • Leguminous crops, for instance, can fix atmospheric nitrogen, reducing the need for nitrogen fertilizers.
  • Subsidy Reform: There is a need to gradually rationalise and reform the fertilizer subsidy system to incentivize the use of balanced fertilization practices.
    • This might involve providing subsidies for alternative nutrient sources, encouraging farmers to reduce urea consumption.

UPSC Civil Services Examination, Previous Year’s Question (PYQs)

Q. With reference to chemical fertilizers in India, consider the following statements: (2020)

  1. At present, the retail price of chemical fertilizers is market-driven and not administered by the Government.
  2. Ammonia, which is an input of urea, is produced from natural gas.
  3. Sulphur, which is a raw material for phosphoric acid fertilizer, is a by-product of oil refineries.

Which of the statements given above is/are correct?

(a) 1 only
(b) 2 and 3 only
(c) 2 only 
(d) 1, 2 and 3

Ans: (b)

Q. Why does the Government of India promote the use of ‘Neem-coated Urea’ in agriculture? (2016)

(a) Release of Neem oil in the soil increases nitrogen fixation by the soil microorganisms.

(b) Neem coating slows down the rate of dissolution of urea in the soil.

(c) Nitrous oxide, which is a greenhouse gas, is not at all released into atmosphere by crop fields.

(d) It is a combination of a weedicide and a fertilizer for particular crops.

Ans: (b)

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