Mineral phosphorous is a non-renewable resource and is mined from quarries of igneous and sedimentary rock. Over 95% of the remaining reserves are controlled by five countries, including Morocco, China, USA, South Africa and Jordan. Phosphorus is a limiting nutrient in crop growth and hence can limit global crop yields. It is included in a list of critical raw materials published by the European Commission in 2017. Critical raw materials are those raw materials which are economically and strategically important for the European economy, but have a high-risk associated with their supply.
Ireland imports all of its inorganic (chemical) phosphorous requirements. The main suppliers of phosphate fertilisers to Ireland are Morocco, Tunisia, and Russia. Morocco is one of the world’s main suppliers and holds the most important phosphate rock reserves in the world. The only commercially viable source of phosphate rock in the EU is located in Finland.
The quantity of inorganic phosphorous used by Irish farmers has decreased from a high of 50,000 tonnes in 1989 to a total of 41,893 tonnes in 2016/17. This reduction was as a result of improved nutrient management at farm level, more efficient use of organic manures (slurry) and a response to increased fertiliser prices.
The EU Nitrates Directive, introduced in 2006 set limits for Phosphorous use on farms. A new Nitrates Action Programme was agreed for Ireland for 2018 -2021 (S.I. No. 605/2017). This encourages the efficient use of Phosphorous fertiliser and maximises the Phosphorous contribution from animal manures.
Additionally, the re-use of natural raw materials, which currently go to waste, is one of the cornerstones of the Circular Economy Package, adopted in December 2015 by the EU Commission. The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine has supported the proposal for an EU Regulation on Fertilisers replacing Regulation No 2003/2003 whereby recycling of waste materials e.g. digestates, composts, food industry by-products and animal by-products can be transformed into organic fertilisers.
The EU Commission Regulatory Impact Assessment on the proposed Fertiliser Regulation reported that the use of recycled nutrients in the EU could replace up to 30% of the imported Phosphorous requirements.