Powering Agriculture with Potash Fertilizers

How Potassium Increases Nitrogen Use Efficiency?

5 mins
Dr. Patricia Imas
Agronomy content manager & commodities specialist

The agriculture sector is challenged with producing more and more food to meet the needs of the world’s growing population. The global population today is nearly three times larger than it was in the 1950s, with predictions it will rise to 9.8 billion people by 2050. This population growth will have a double impact on agriculture, increasing competition for arable land and increasing demand for food. So, in simple terms, we must produce more food from the same, or less, land area.

An additional challenge relates to the environmental impact of agriculture. We now have a greater understanding of the need to grow in more sustainable ways to ensure that we protect the planet and also protect future harvests.

To increase production while reducing agriculture’s impact on the planet, growers must make the best use of potash fertilizers.

What is Potassium and What is Potash?

Potassium (K) is one of the three primary nutrients that plants need, along with phosphorus (P) and nitrogen (N).

Potash is the common name for potassium fertilizer. Potash (also known as potassium chloride, KCl) is the world’s most highly valued and widely used potassium fertilizer and is an efficient way to deliver potassium to crops.

Potash is the ideal source of potassium for all chloride-tolerant crops and soils. It improves plant resistance to stresses, including diseases, drought, and cold, while delivering superior crop yield, improved quality, and increased profitability.

Where Does Potash Come From?

The bulk of the world’s potash is produced by either mining or evaporation processes.

ICL’s Dead Sea Works plant uses evaporation ponds to harness the sun’s energy, producing potash from the salt-rich waters of the Dead Sea. Using clean energy from the sun, we create high-quality potash with a particularly low carbon footprint.

ICL also mines potash at its site in Catalonia, Spain, where we process the potash after extraction to remove impurities, ready for fertilizer production.

Why Do Plants Need Potassium?

Potassium is fundamental for plant metabolic processes. Some of the key activities attributed to potassium are:

  • Potassium is involved in the activation of over sixty enzymatic systems in plant cells and in the synthesis of proteins, vitamins, starch, and cellulose, which ensure normal plant metabolism, plant growth, and the formation of strong tissues.
  • Potassium promotes the growth of healthy root systems, providing plants with good anchorage and improved access to water and soil nutrients.
  • Potassium helps photosynthesis, the process through which plants utilize sunlight to create the sugars and energy plants need for their development and growth.
  • Potassium controls the opening and closing of the leaf stomata, regulating the water status in the plant.
  • It is essential in starch formation and the production and translocation of sugars. Therefore, potassium is of particular value in carbohydrate-rich crops such as sugarcane, potato, and sugar beet.
  • As part of the symbiotic relationship between legumes and the rhizobium bacteria, plants provide the bacteria with starch and sugars. Potassium increases starch and sugar production, creating more nutrients for the bacteria and improving nitrogen fixation.
  • Potassium not only increases yields but also enhances crop quality. It improves the nutritional value of grains, tubers, and fruits by increasing the contents of protein and oil in seeds, starch in tubers and seeds, and vitamin C and sugar in fruits.
  • With an adequate supply of potassium, cereals produce plump grains and strong stalks, making them resistant to lodging and improving harvests.
  • Potassium improves the flavor and color of fruits and increases the size of tubers and fruits. In addition, it increases the resistance to various injuries during storage and transportation, thus extending shelf-life and reducing waste.

How Potassium Affects the Environment?

Potassium is important when we consider the impact of farming on the environment. The first thing to consider is that potassium is relatively immobile in the soil; unlike some other nutrients, potassium is less likely to be leached away from the root zone and less likely to be lost to the environment.

Does Potassium Increase Nitrogen Use Efficiency?

Potassium also increases crops’ nitrogen use efficiency (NUE). The production and use of nitrogen fertilizers result in significant ammonia and nitrous oxide gas emissions and nitrate leaching. These losses have a significant environmental impact, which makes reducing nitrogen use and nitrogen losses valuable goals. Potassium improves nitrogen uptake and utilization, meaning crops utilize more of the nitrogen applied, and less nitrogen is lost to the environment, reducing the risks of nitrogen pollution.

How Potassium Improves Crop Yields?

The environmental benefits of potash go beyond its soil mobility. Crops require a balanced fertilizer approach, supplying the correct levels of each of the nutrients that plants need to achieve optimum yields. Ensuring the availability of adequate potassium improves crop yields, which means higher production from the same land area, reducing the need for agriculture to utilize additional land.

How Potassium Helps Plants Regulate Water?

Water resources are extremely important, and this importance is further amplified by the challenges posed by climate change and population growth. Potassium can, importantly, improve plants’ water use efficiency. The correct use of potassium helps plants regulate water uptake and transpiration, reducing the amount of water lost through evaporation. Increasing crops’ water-use efficiency contributes to conserving water resources and reduces the environmental impact of irrigation practices.

Does Potassium Contribute to Soil Health?

Healthy soil is vital for current and future crop production. Potassium contributes to soil structure and fertility by improving soil aggregation, which enhances soil porosity, water infiltration, and aeration, which improves overall soil health.

In addition, potassium has a role in improving plant root systems which does more than just help plants get the nutrients and water they need; it also benefits the environment. Plants with sufficient potassium develop stronger root systems that help hold the soil together, preventing soil erosion and protecting against the loss of valuable, nutrient-rich topsoil.

ICL Potash for Top Crop Nutrition

ICL’s potash, produced at our environmentally friendly production sites, is a superb source of potassium. Our Dead Sea production site boasts the added benefit of manufacturing premium, high-quality potash fertilizer with a significantly lower carbon footprint than alternative products. In addition, ICL’s high-quality potash fertilizer contains 62% K2O, the highest concentration on the market.

ICL produces three grades of potash for agriculture: fine, standard, and granular. These high-quality potash grades are excellent sources of concentrated potassium, perfect for direct application, bulk blending with other fertilizers, or fertilizer production.

In addition, ICL’s professional agronomic and technical teams are on hand to provide our customers with advice and support to ensure optimum potassium nutrition.