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The Production and Application of Chemical Fertilizers in China

  • Kang Chao


The production of chemical fertilizers has been one of the most successful industries in China in the past two decades. It has not only manifested a remarkable long-term growth rate but also avoided shortterm fluctuations. During the crisis years of the early 1960s when virtually all industries suffered set-backs, the production of fertilizers managed to progress steadily. Its success is attributed to a number of favourable factors. First of all the importance of chemical fertilizers in developing China's agriculture was fully recognized by all leaders in the Party after their early policy of reliance on the mobilization of natural fertilizers had failed. Consequently, in spite of the frequent power struggles, the chemical fertilizer industry has received uninterrupted emphasis and support. Secondly, the technological problems in producing fertilizers are less formidable than in some other industries so that in a relatively short period the Chinese have learned the basic methods of producing fertilizers and of manufacturing new equipment for this industry. Thus, production has been able to expand whether under the foreign embargo or under the self-imposed policy of self-reliance. Finally, there is no serious resource barrier in the provision of key materials for the production of fertilizers.



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* This research work was financed by a grant from the Trade Analysis Division, Bureau of East-West Trade, Department of Commerce, Washington, D.C., to which I would like to express my gratitude.

1. Aside from technological differences, small plant are below the annual capacity of 15,000 tons in gross weight. Plant above this level are officially called “large and medium plant,” but they are called “large plant” here for the sake of brevity.

2. Hua-hsueh kung-yeh (Chemical Industry), No. 15 (1959), p. 35.

3. Ibid. No. 5 (1959), p. 28.

4. Ibid. No. 23 (1961), p. 1, and Ta kung pao, 15 06 1966.

5. Economic Bulletin, 15 03 1965.

6. Liu, Jung-chao, China's Fertilizer Economy (Chicago: Aldine, 1970), p. 27.

7. New China News Agency (NCNA), 6 April 1971, and Hua-hsueh kung-yeh, No. 7 (1957), p. 65.

8. The output of phosphorous fertilizers was 570,000 tons in 1961. See Chao, Kang, Agricultural Production in Communist China (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1970), p. 315.

9. Economic Bulletin, 10 10 1973, p. 10; NCNA, 30 10 1972, and 23 05 1973. The coal dust is made into briquettes before reacting with steam.

10. NCNA, 30 04 1973.

11. Ibid. 13 June 1970.

12. Ibid. 29 December 1969.

13. Chung-kuo hsin-wen, 26 09 1962.

14. NCNA, 17 09 1972.

15. Not all the sets of machinery for the eight projects were imported; see Chung-kuo hsin-wen, 20 12 1973.

16. Liu, , China's Fertilizer Economy, p. 104.

17. Chung-kuo nung-pao (Chinese Agricultural Journal), No. 7 (1959), p. 36.

18. Hua-tung nung-yeh k'o-hsueh t'ung-pao (Bulletin of Eastern China Agricultural Science), No. 6 (1958), p, 310.

19. See Liu, , China's Fertilizer Economy, p. 61. The same was true in the early 1970s.

20. The data was taken from People's Republic of China: International Trade Handbook (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government, 09 1974), p. 15. Although we have no information yet about the unit value in 1974, it must be much higher. For instance, the price of urea, 46% nitrogen content, rose to $210 per ton in the United States on 15 April 1974, and further to $260 per ton on 15 September 1974. However, the F.O.B. price in the world market reached as much as $365 per ton at times in that year. See Fertilizer Situation (Washington, D.C.: USDA, Economic Research Service, 12 1974), pp. 8 and 19.

21. For instance the imports from Japan in 1967 consisted of the following: urea, 320,350 tons, ammonium chloride, 973,350 tons, ammonium sulphate, 973, 720 tons, other nitrogen fertilizers, 13,660 tons, and other fertilizers, 21,098 tons. The composition of imports from Japan in 1973 became (planned): urea, 1,500,000 tons, ammonium sulphate, 600,000 tons, and ammonium chloride, 590,000 tons. See Chinese Communist Affairs Monthly, Vol. 11, No. 2 (1968), p. 87, and Vol. 16, No. 4 (1973), p. 94.

22. See Chinese Communist Affairs Monthly, Vol. 10, No. 1 (1967), p. 74.

23. In 1967 the selling price of ammonium sulphate inclusive of shipping cost was $28 per ton in Europe and $30 in Japan, but it rose to $40 the next year for OECD exports.

24. Chinese Communist Affairs Monthly, Vol. 14, No. 8 (1971), p. 95.

25. Snow, , “Talks with Chou En-lai,” p. 20.

26. The speech given by Huang Shu-tse, head of the Chinese delegation to the United Nations World Population Conference, August 1974, as published in Peking Review, 30 08 1974, p. 9. The total territory of China is 960 million hectares.

27. This is consistent with the information given by another official source, which reports that the average amount of chemical fertilizer applied in 1974 was 20 kilogrammes per mou or 300 kilogrammes per hectare in gross weight. See the interview with Teng Hsiao-p'ing in Ch'i-shih nien-tai, No. 59 (12 1974), p. 17.

28. Chao, , Agricultural Production, pp. 150 and 310.

29. That is to say, one assumes that extraction of native fertilizers from other sources has reached its physical limit and cannot increase.

30. Liu, , China's Fertilizer Economy, pp. 109110.

31. In 1965, 10% of chemical fertilizers were allocated to non-grain crops. See Chao, , Agricultural Production, p. 160. Although I have no information on recent distribution, I am inclined to believe that the 10% proportion has been maintained. However, to play safe one might assume a much higher figure – 15%. It should be emphatically pointed out that all rates of application of fertilizers and yield responses mentioned here are the so-called national averages; there actually exist enormous variations between regions and between farms.

32. Far Eastern Economic Review (FEER), 1 07 1974, p. 42.

33. In fact, between February 1973 and August 1974, China signed contracts to buy 56 whole plant from western countries and Japan for various industries. The total debts so incurred amounted to $2 billion. See People's Republic of China: International Trade Handbook, 09 1974, pp. 1617.

34. FEER, 2 08 1974, p. 14.

35. In fact, if the price per ton of ammonium sulphate rises to the price per ton of grains on the world market, it would pay to export fertilizers and import grains.

36. This is so because the Chinese are not yet prepared to make equipment by themselves for manufacturing potash fertilizers.

37. People's Republic of China: International Trade Handbook, 09 1974, p. 15.

The Production and Application of Chemical Fertilizers in China

  • Kang Chao


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