Nitrogen nutrients are primary macronutrients essential for the growth and development of plants. They are usually obtained from nitrogen-rich soil and therefore also called soil nutrients. Nitrogen is commonly found in the chlorophyll and chloroplast of plant cells. A majority of plants cannot fix nitrogen directly from the atmosphere and thus absorb nitrogen nutrients from the soil in the form of nitrate ions or ammonia ions. Plants often have a symbiotic relation with nitrogen-fixing bacteria, which convert inert atmospheric nitrogen into ammonia and other nitrogen derivatives which are absorbed by the host plants. However, for improved growth of plants and high yield, nitrogen nutrients are added in the form of fertilizers, supplements, soil conditioners, and soil amendments.
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The rising global population propels the demand for food and agriculture, and by extension, plant nutrients. Nitrogen is a highly essential nutrient for healthy plant growth and the demand for these nutrients is expected to rise significantly over the forecast period. Substantial progress in the agrochemical and fertilizer sectors is likely to drive the market for nitrogen nutrients. Furthermore, the global consumption of nutrients stood at 245 million tons as of 2015 and is anticipated to amount to 270 million tons by 2020, indicating a significant opportunity for nitrogen nutrients in several regions. However, as of 2015 and 2016, cereal harvest was largely hampered due to unfavorable climatic conditions and low prices for the yield, which affected the demand for agriculture commodities including nitrogen nutrients, impacting the nutrient and fertilizer markets all around the world.
The market for nitrogen nutrients is bifurcated by source into the natural and man-made categories. Natural sources for nitrogen nutrients are further divided into animal by-products and plant-derived materials. The former include compost manure, poultry manure, blood meal, fish emulsion, and crab meal, whereas plant-derived materials comprise alfalfa meals, soybean meals, and cottonseed meals. Man-made sources usually include fertilizers, soil amendments, and soil supplements, as well as processed mineral salts such as Chilean nitrate. However, prolonged usage of minerals may damage water tables due to high leaching. Yet, fertilizers remain a significant source of nitrogen nutrient for plants and agriculture. More than 70% of demand for plant nutrients is satisfied by fertilizers globally, of which a significant share is accounted by urea.
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In terms of geography, the market is distributed over Asia Pacific, Europe, North America, Latin America, and Middle East & Africa. North America and Europe are projected to witness significant capacity expansions over the next few years. Government policy changes and developments largely affect the nutrients market. Europe, India, China, and Africa underwent major policy alterations. China, for instance, adopted a zero-growth policy which limits fertilizer and nutrient consumption to only 1% per annum, affecting the entire market in Asia Pacific. China recently seized operations of its ammonia production capacities worth 15 million tons, ultimately stagnating the growth of entire East Asia. Europe also implemented a circular economy model to reduce its waste and provided significant subsidies for the recycling and re-use of nutrient sources. However, Africa and North America are estimated to increase their production of urea over the forecast period.