The EU is weighing accelerating the development of manure-based fertilisers to limit reliance on Russian-made alternatives and the gas needed for domestic production.
The Spanish and Dutch governments are "opening a new focus" on treating manure and using it instead of traditional, gas-based products, Spanish Agriculture Minister Luis Planas said in an interview Monday. The pilot project has been discussed with the rest of the European Union's agriculture ministers, whose reaction has been "positive."
The war in Ukraine propelled wholesale fertiliser prices to multi-year highs earlier this year, despite the US exempting Russian sales from sanctions. Soaring prices for gas, the main input for nitrogen-rich ammonia fertiliser, have made it more expensive to produce supplies and forced manufacturers to halt some output.
Disruption to the supply of fertiliser is already curbing crop yields in South America while soaring prices have had a particularly heavy impact on countries such as France, which imports about 70% of its needs, said Planas.
"Developing biological alternatives to traditional fertilizers would drastically reduce gas consumption, giving Europe an element to foster its food self-sufficiency" he said. "In this regard, they represent our top priority."
Global prices will likely remain high this year and next as the war in Ukraine stokes uncertainty about the supply of Russian fertiliser and increasing output can take as long as five years, according to the US Department of Agriculture.
Manure-based products would be "very important" for both Spain and the Netherlands, said Planas, adding that current advances in research and development would have to be followed by change in EU regulations. Still, building the mechanisms to treat different kinds of manures could take about five years, he said.
While manure is a cheaper alternative to pricey synthetic fertilisers, it is less potent than traditional products. For example, the fertiliser diammonium phosphate has six times the nitrogen and 15 times the phosphate as manure on a per ton basis.