Here at ICL, we believe sustainability is more than a buzzword for ornamental professionals like you. Growers, farmers, and distributors across the industry are tuning in to more sustainable growing practices to help ensure their future. If you count yourself as part of that group, controlled release fertilizers (CRF) should be on your list.
More than 50 years ago, the introduction of Osmocote controlled-release fertilizer revolutionized the fertilizer industry. That first generation of coated fertilizer marked the start of a new age. Thanks to the plant-based resin coating on the granules, growers could rest easy knowing one nutrient application would suffice where they needed multiple applications before. Each subsequent generation of ICL’s Osmocote has delivered new technologies and innovations for unparalleled performance in nutrient release.
Now, as then, the coated fertilizer technologies embodied by Osmocote represent the highest nutrient use efficiency of any fertilizer technology. With precise CRF application at the plant’s root zone, growers like you can reduce fertilizer usage, achieve higher quality and yields, and minimize environmental impact. For sustainable production, CRF is a triple win.
Outperforming conventional fertilizers with CRF
If you’ve been in the growing business for a while, you understand fertilizer challenges. With conventional fertilizer applications, nutrients are in excess supply until demand and leaching kick in. Conventional fertilizers start dissolving immediately, leaving plants with a short window to access nutrients they need. Then the scenario flips to excess demand and deficient supply. For crops to get the nutrients they need, you need multiple conventional fertilizer applications.
But coated or CRF fertilizers don’t work that way. Instead, the supply of nutrients available to your plants increases as your crop and its nutrient demands grow. Influenced by soil temperature, moisture penetrates the granule’s semi-permeable coating and dissolves the nutrient at its core. Then the osmotic pressure that builds up inside the coated granule pushes the nutrient solution through the coating's microscopic pores.
Thanks to the special coatings on Osmocote CRF granules, nutrients release gradually. That means you get nutrient delivery that matches plant demand, and that translates to optimal growth and efficiency. Depending on the CRF product’s intended longevity, release occurs over weeks to many months. Once granules fully release the nutrients, the coating disintegrates into the soil.
Comparing efficiency between fertilizer categories
Numerous studies have confirmed how CRFs outshine the competition. Nutrient use efficiency in controlled release fertilizers rates as high as 80% to 90%. Fully soluble fertilizers used in fertigation are next in line, with 60% to 80% nutrient use efficiency. In comparison, slow-release fertilizers score 50% to 70%, while partially soluble fertilizers top out at 20% to 40% nutrient use efficiency. The percentages tell the story: With properly applied CRFs, you can achieve the same or superior results with much lower fertilizer input.
At ICL, we’ve been running CRF trials for over a half of a century now. The results are clear. Depending on cultivation circumstances, CRF can:
- reduce total fertilizer use by 20% to 50%
- reduce leaching of nutrients by rates up to 55%
- reduce denitrification by up to 40%
- reduce volatilization by up to 40%
And when sustainability is a priority, those combined reductions represent a substantial decrease in your growing operation’s environmental impact—from protecting water sources from leached nutrients to reducing nitrogen volatilized as N2O (nitrous oxide), an often-overlooked greenhouse gas.
Selecting the right CRF products for you
With gains like these, CRFs benefit your growing operation in multiple ways. Continuous nutrient release means crops avoid stressful deficiencies. You enjoy higher yields, better quality, and better uniformity. And because your crops grow more evenly and gradually, they’re less susceptible to stress from insects and diseases. All from sustainability-enhancing products that use less but deliver more.
The most important part of your CRF is the coating itself. Differences in coatings affect direct nutrient availability and potential leaching as well. Coating technologies have different characteristics that relate to factors such as moisture content, soil temperature, and soil microbiology. Those differences allow you to create specific fertilization strategies that are ideal for your crops and your climate.
So where do you start? Right here. With ICL, you tap into a global network of expertise. But our local experts have feet on the ground where you are—and they care about sustainability as much as you do. So, give us a call, send us an email, or stop to chat at an upcoming show. Let us help you and your business grow.