In March 1998, the United States International Trade Commission's (USITC) Office of Industries published an Industry & Trade Summary for fertilizers. According to the USITC's report, "U.S.-produced fertilizers are considered to be of high quality and to exhibit stable handling, good storage and long shelf-life characteristics. U.S. producers are considered to be the most secure source of supply in the world."
The U.S.'s demand for commercial fertilizers far exceeds its production capabilities. Therefore, the U.S. relies on imported fertilizers to supplement its production and meet domestic-consumption demands.
U.S. agriculture is the major consumer of fertilizers, accounting for more than 85 percent of U.S. fertilizer consumption. Golf courses, grounds care and nurseries account for about 10 percent of domestic use, and the home lawn and garden market accounts for the remaining 5 percent of domestic fertilizer consumption.
Fertilizer production is a strong industry in the U.S. In fact, annual U.S. production from 1992 to 1996 averaged about $8.8 million (see Table 1), while employing more than 37,000 people. Total fertilizer consumption rose from $7.5 million in 1992 to $9 billion in 1996. Meanwhile, fertilizer imports also increased from 19.6 percent to 27.6 percent of U.S fertilizer consumption.
Weather conditions, trade disputes, political unrest, general economic agricultural conditions, crop prices and product supply each can have an influence on the demand for fertilizer. Although no substitute exists for fertilizers in plant growth, "within each necessary nutrient group, each nutrient may be supplied through a variety of products," says USITC.
The industry categorizes fertilizers into three primary nutrient groups: fixed nitrogen, water-soluble phosphorus and water-soluble potassium.
According to USITC's summary, "On a nutrient basis, a significant portion of domestic demand for nitrogenous and potassic fertilizers is satisfied by imports. However, U.S. production of phosphatic fertilizers is both sufficient to satisfy domestic demand and to account for the majority of U.S. fertilizer exports."
Nitrogen is the most-applied nutrient. Therefore, nitrogenous fertilizers are the most-often-applied by farmers and groundskeepers in the U.S. As Table 2 illustrates, the tonnage of nitrogen fertilizers consumed in 1996 and 1997 more than doubled that of phosphate and potash. During this period, the latter two nutrients also experienced a slight increase in consumption, with potash recording the highest increase with 2.1 percent. However, by comparing the figures for each nutrient over the last 5 years, it is clear that consumption of each nutrient has remained relatively stable over the years (see Table 3).
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