The agriculture industry relies on a variety of chemicals to enhance crop yields and protect against disease or pests. These products are used in a multitude of ways, chiefly as fertilisers and pesticides (herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, nematicides, molluscicides and more).
Agrochemicals are essential for crop productivity — they help plants to grow, thrive and survive by ensuring optimum soil conditions and protection from the damaging effects of pests like weeds, insects and fungus. They are essential for the success of the agricultural industry and therefore global food supply.
So, we know the key roles that agrochemicals perform and why they’re so important — but what are some examples of the most important agrochemicals?
Potassium chloride, phosphoric acid and nitric acid are three of the key, most popularly-sourced chemicals — they are used to produce potassium, phosphorus and nitrogen-based fertilisers respectively. However, as such a wide-ranging group of products with diverse applications, there are many other chemicals required in the manufacture of agrochemicals.
One of the foremost agrochemicals, potassium chloride is used in the production of potassium-based fertilisers by converting potash rock into plant food.
Plant growth is often limited by the availability of potassium, a key macronutrient that helps with water regulation, enzyme activation and stress tolerance.
Phosphates are the compounds that provide the energy needed for most reactions in living cells; as mentioned earlier, soils rich in phosphates are conducive to enhancing and supporting plant growth.
Nitric acid is mixed with ammonia to create nitrogen-based fertilisers like ammonium nitrate. This can also be mixed with urea to create urea ammonium nitrate.
Nitrogen is a major component of chlorophyll, which plants use to convert sunlight into sugars as part of photosynthesis.
In agriculture, phosphates are most commonly applied as phosphorus fertilisers — they are added to the soil to supplement and support the natural phosphorus levels in the soil, encouraging growth and boosting crop yield.
When added to soil, phosphates are taken up through the roots of the plants and flowers, enhancing the plant’s ability to transform the sun’s light into energy (photosynthesis).
Other phosphates have uses including as agents to break down clay and other soil types. They can also correct mineral deficiencies in the soil which may impact growth and yield, as well as balancing pH levels.
A few examples of phosphates used in agriculture include:
Acids play a number of vital roles in agriculture, including converting raw materials into various fertilisers, pH adjustment, improving nutrient availability, and in cleaning and disinfection. These acids include, but are not limited to:
Manganese nitrate is used in fertilisers to correct a manganese mineral deficiency in crops. Manganese is an essential macronutrient for photosynthesis, plant development, metabolic health and stress tolerance; it is extracted from the soil and transported through the phloem from root to shoot.
Sodium bicarbonate can be used for controlling fungal disease in plants, such as powdery mildew, black spot and downy mildew. By dehydrating insects, it also works as a pesticide against aphids, mites and whiteflies. It can also be used to neutralise a soil’s acidity.
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