The IFFCO Canada1-La Coop tag team intend to build a urea fertilizer plant in Bécancour. It will be the largest industrial project in the Saint-Laurence Valley in over 40 years. From the perspective of the urea market, it is a nitrogen-containing fertilizer whose strategic character is too often ignored.
Urea represents one third of all mineral fertilizers used worldwide. Farmers around the planet spread nearly 160 million metric tons of it every year. Although urea consumption is stable in Quebec, according to the International Fertilizer Association it is growing at a rate of 3.8% per year on the world scale. The FAO believes that the shortage of agricultural land will force us to count on increased yield to meet growing demand, which would obviously involve optimum use of fertilizers. It is therefore no surprise that big corporations that specialize in this industry are realizing that world demand will, in the foreseeable future, continue to rise and maintain the steady rate of growth attained over the past few years.

"One half of all nitrogen contained in our body tissue had passed through a fertilizer plant."

Despite this information, some people think that farming should be restricted to organic fertilizers (primarily manure and slurry) to feed the soil with minerals. However, it is mathematically impossible to strictly limit ourselves to organic fertilizers on a world wide scale. A scientific report published in 2012, Agriculture and the Nitrogen Cycle, noted that plants drew more nitrogen from the soil than organic fertilizers, crop residues and root nodules together can even supply. Consequently equilibrium would be impossible without nitrogen-containing fertilizer manufacturing plants. Last spring, National Geographic alerted that one half of all nitrogen contained in our body tissue had passed through a fertilizer plant. Keep in mind that nitrogen is an essential component of protein.

Urea is a critical product for which demand is constantly increasing. So it's no accident that urea projects are popping up all over the planet. Not in any organized form however, urea production requires a significant quantity of natural gas and the areas where this type of energy is most affordable are in fact the main targets of promoters. According to Rabobank, North Africa, the Middle East and North America are more competitive when it comes to producing urea. Here at home, enthusiasm for fracking technology dramatically helped reduce the price of natural gas. Furthermore, North America's capacity to produce urea, which represents 5% of the world's capacity, can only supply one half of demand. The negative trade balance also helps justify increased capacity for urea production across the continent.

History will tell if the organizations promoting this huge project will be able to overcome the project's imminent obstacles. One thing is certain, local access to urea will be an undeniable strategic advantage once spring is here since a huge number of clients will need procurement within the space of a few weeks. Since no one is ever protected from the vagaries affecting maritime transportation, importing urea from overseas is not without risk.

1 IFFCO is an Indian cooperative specialized in the fertilizer industry and serving close to 50 million member farmers.

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