Specialty fertilizers market in Brazil

ithamar prado icl

“… sales of specialty fertilizers demand a high level of technical work in the field …”

Ithamar Prada is Director of Marketing and Innovation at ICL América do Sul, responsible for the areas of Product Management, Market Access, Market Intelligence, Communication, Research and Development, and Agronomic Development.

Prada has a degree in Agronomic Engineering from Esalq – USP and a master’s degree in Agronomy from the Federal University of Uberlândia (UFU).
Founded in 1965, ICL América do Sul is headquartered in São Paulo, is the leading specialty plant nutrition player in Brazil, employs approximately 1,000 people, and operates six production sites, in addition to a research and development center. The company is part of ICL Group, a leading global specialty minerals company with more than 12,000 employees worldwide and revenues of approximately US$ 5 billion in 2020.

AgriBrasilis – What are the products called “specialty fertilizers” and what are the main crops for which they are used in Brazil?

Ithamar Prada – Specialty fertilizers are products that present in their formulation some additional characteristic that differentiates them from conventional fertilizers, promoting better performance, stability, efficiency or ease of handling. Included in this category are some products for seed treatment, foliar nutrition, biofertilizers and improved efficiency fertilizers, and are mainly applied to soybean, corn, coffee, cotton, beans, sugarcane, vegetables and fruit.

AgriBrasilis – What is the performance of the market in recent years and the trend for 2021?

Ithamar Prada – According to Abisolo, sales of specialty fertilizers in 2020 were US$ 1.8 billion. For 2021, the estimated growth is 24%. Farmers increasingly see value in this investment. Therefore, we will continue to seek solutions that will have a sustainable impact on the future, developing and delivering environmentally appropriate technologies to customers that help to increase the yield and nutritional quality of food, with the focus on digital projects and the next generation of fertilizers.

Sales by Type of Agricultural Production – Type of Fertilizer
Agricultural activity Special Minerals Organominerals Organics General
Soybean 52.1% 30.9% 30.2% 46.7%
Coffee 8.3% 14.1% 30.3% 10.7%
Corn 10.6% 11.5% 7.8% 10.6%
Sugarcane 6.9% 20.5% 8.2% 9.6%
Fruits 7.6% 10.2% 12.4% 8.4%
Vegetables 5.8% 7.3% 3.5% 5.9%
Cotton 3.3% 0.3% 3.3% 2.7%
Black / pinto beans 2.2% 2.8% 0.5% 2.2%
Wheat 1.8% 0.4% 0.1% 1.4%
Pasture 0.8% 1.3% 3.4% 1.0%
Reforestation 0.1% 0.0% 0.1% 0.1%
Flowers 0.2% 0.1% 0.0% 0.2%
Rice 0.4% 0.6% 0.2% 0.4%

AgriBrasilis – Why companies in the specialty fertilizers sector do not operate in the pesticide or NPK market?

Ithamar Prada – Despite being agricultural inputs, both have different characteristics, with raw materials, technical specificities, industries and other distinct aspects. Sales of specialty fertilizers require a high level of technical work in the field to generate demand, differing from the dynamics of those other markets.

AgriBrasilis – Different nutrients have different ways of interacting with the soil-plant system. How do products developed by the sector relate to this issue?

Ithamar Prada – The increase in the efficiency of nutrient use is one of the most important agenda in the specialty nutrition sector, which develops products seeking to increase performance so that the farmer maximizes the harvest with the use of nutrients in the proper area, source and time. At ICL, all technology development has the mission of combining aspects of agricultural production with sustainability.

The development of plant nutrition technologies aims to increase nutrient efficiency, reducing losses in the soil-plant-atmosphere system. An example is the use of controlled-release fertilizers, which significantly reduce losses in the process, generating higher yields, environmental and operational gains, due to the less need for splitting the fertilizer. For nutrition through seeds and leaves, the understanding is the development of products based on sources that enhance the bioavailability of nutrients and, thus, the results of farmers.

AgriBrasilis – What is the profile of the farmer concerned with plant nutrition beyond the traditional NPK?

Ithamar Prada – The more technified farmers are the first to adopt specialty fertilizers. With the results from the field, other farmers end up adopting them. We understand that the work of the academic community, consultants and companies themselves in the development of field research has driven the adoption of these technologies.

AgriBrasilis – What are ICL’s expectations about the Brazilian market?

Ithamar Prada – Brazil is one of the main players in the world’s agribusiness, with great representation not only in the growing area, but also in the development of local management techniques. ICL believes in the continuous strengthening of Brazilian agribusiness and also in the search, by farmers, for technologies that add more and more to production systems.

AgriBrasilis – What innovations does ICL America do Sul have for the market?

Ithamar Prada – Agriculture has been evolving year by year to meet the growing demand for food. We have achieved increasing yields with new genetic materials. The same is happening in plant physiology and nutrition. ICL, which has innovation as one of its pillars, with significant investments in research, development and innovation in Brazil and around the world, is attentive to this. Globally, it invests around US$ 52 million in research and development. In Brazil, ICL América do Sul invested, in 2020, around US$ 3.3 million, which solidifies our position as one of the most innovative and technological companies in the sector.

The company has an innovation center in Iracemápolis, SP, accredited by the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Supply (MAPA) as an agricultural research institution. These accreditation allows the use of research results generated at the innovation center for the registration of new fertilizers, tests for the viability of fertilizers through seeds, and bioassays for the registration of biofertilizers. According to MAPA’s list of private research institutions, it is the only one that works exclusively in plant nutrition to have a research center registered by the Ministry for research on fertilizers, allowing even greater flexibility in the development of unique technologies and in its launch to the market.

This year ICL launched NutriDuo in Brazil. It is an innovative product, which brings a new technology in plant nutrition. The main difference is due to the use of the nutrient selenium, associated with other minerals such as Zn and Mg in foliar application. It is a technology with oxidative anti-stress power that at the same time, promotes the biofortification of grains and fruits. In the first half of this year, we launched Improver Max, a product aimed at treating grass seeds – rice, wheat and corn – which associates the use of physiological agents with important nutrients for germination and initial plant establishment, above all for development of the root system.

AgriBrasilis – What are the biggest nutritional deficiencies in the main agricultural regions?

Ithamar Prada – Brazil is a country of continental dimensions, with a wide range of soil types, as well as a diversity of combinations of agricultural management, so it is complex to point out a predominant nutritional deficiency. It is important to highlight in micronutrients the boron deficiency to a large area, but with several areas with zinc, copper and manganese deficiency. In the secondary macronutrients, it is common to find areas deficient in sulfur and magnesium. Not only the factors related to soil fertility, but also yield increase and the cultivation of more than one crop per year increases the need for nutrients in general due to the higher consumption to support the increase in production in the same area.