Ammonium sulfate fertilizer was one of the first and widely-used nitrogen fertilizers used for crop production. It isn’t as common today as it was in the past, but it is still a valuable commodity in regions where the soil lacks enough sulfur and nitrogen to provide a growing foundation. This product offers a high solubility rate that offers versatility for several agricultural applications.
Producers have made ammonium sulfate fertilizer for over 150 years to help with the agricultural industries around the world. The first processes involved the release of ammonia during coal gas manufacturing or coal coke when producing steel. Now it comes from a reaction of sulfuric acid with heated ammonia. Reaction conditions get controlled by screening and drying the particles to form the best crystals possible.
Several ammonium sulfate fertilizer advantages and disadvantages are worth considering when the need to improve soil quality exists.
List of the Advantages of Ammonium Sulfate Fertilizer
1. It replaces the soil nutrients that don’t exist in some regions.
Chemical fertilizers have become a critically important resource for the agricultural sector because this product helps to replace soil nutrients. If croplands have deficiencies or marginal health, then ammonium sulfate fertilizer can contribute to increases in crop production and higher yields. When farmers in western Canada introduced this product to their fields, production levels rows by up to 60% each year.
2. This fertilizer improves the levels of organic residue returning to the soil.
When a product like ammonium sulfate fertilizer can improve the health of local soil, then the increased crop production that results can improve the amount of residue and root biomass that exists locally. There are direct benefits occurring every time an increase in soil organic matter happens after a growing season. That means an increase in the levels of organic carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, and sulfur are possible.
This advantage works to improve the long-term fertility of the soil. It also works to create benefits in the natural nutrient cycling process.
3. Ammonium sulfate fertilizer is affordable for the average grower.
The price of ammonium sulfate fertilizer is one of the primary reasons why some growers prefer to use this chemical product. Synthetic items are typically cheaper than organic ones. There is better accessibility for this item in most farming areas, and you can even tend to a small garden with it since small bags and buckets are often available at garden supply stores. By keeping your costs down when preparing your fields, it becomes possible to increase your profit margin on each item grown.
4. It provides fast results.
When you decide to use ammonium sulfate fertilizer, then you will not need to wait for several weeks or months before you start to see positive results. Once you apply the product to the soil, the improvements in your plants will happen within days. Chemical fertilizers like this one release nutrients at a much faster rate than organic products.
If you have sensitive plants that don’t like immediate changes to their soil composition, then this advantage won’t apply. As far as the amount of time that’s necessary for fertilizer to show results, ammonium sulfate is always an excellent solution.
5. This fertilizer follows standardized labeling practices and rations.
When you choose to use an ammonium sulfate fertilizer, then you’ll see the nutrient ratios of the product clearly defined on the label of your bag or bucket. This advantage reduces the risk of over-fertilizing a garden or cropland. Although organic items might be healthier in the long-term for many fields, there is a higher risk of applying too much product – and that could result in plant death.
6. The product has multiple uses that fall outside of the fertilizer spectrum.
Ammonium sulfate is a highly adaptable product that serves multiple functions in our society today. Some food companies like to add this item to bread because it works well as a dough conditioner. It is also a common component in fire extinguisher powders and flame-proofing agents. If you have items with a robust fire-resistance rating, then there is an excellent chance that one of the ingredients used in the manufacturing of that product is this item.
Several different industries, including textiles, wood pulp, and pharmaceuticals, use ammonium sulfate in a variety of applications.
7. It can act as a disinfecting agent.
Some municipalities like to use ammonium sulfate with chlorine as a way to generate an item called monochloramine. That makes the water safe for drinking because it disinfects the fluid effectively. It can also be useful in the preparation of some salts like ammonium persulfate. It is also a common ingredient that gets listed on many vaccines in the United States.
The disinfecting quality of ammonium sulfate fertilizer makes it possible to remove potentially harmful components from the soil when applied. Although it works best when alkaline conditions exist, there are some situations where an acidic foundation is also useful.
List of the Disadvantages of Ammonium Sulfate Fertilizer
1. It can cause a high concentration of salts to form in the soil.
The salt effect with ammonium sulfate fertilizer happens when the product is near germinating seeds that cause injury or death to the new plant. This outcome occurs when the concentration of salt is greater than that within the plant cells. That causes higher osmotic pressure in the soil when compared to the seedling, forcing water into the ground instead of staying in the plant.
Placing too much fertilizer on farm fields can result in this toxic combination. Then runoff can make the excessive ammonium sulfate fertilizer reach local waterways to impact life in those habitats.
2. This fertilizer can create a toxicity effect.
When the urea granules of ammonium sulfate fertilizer come near a germinating seed and convert to ammonia, then this toxic effect can also kill young plants. The goal of this product is to have hydrogen ions from water attach to the ammonia to eliminate this issue, but it won’t happen when the moisture conditions aren’t good in local fields.
If the ammonia persists in the area, then it causes the soil to become toxic to any seedlings. Even when water levels meet or exceed expectations, the placement of urea crystals near plants can be enough to cause this disadvantage to occur.
3. It isn’t an environmentally friendly solution to improve yields.
Chemical fertilizers like ammonium sulfate are not an environmentally friendly solution. It gets made with products from the petroleum industry, which means it is not a sustainable item. Organic fertilizers have a lesser risk of leaching into local water sources, so there is always a risk of pollution when using this product. It also takes much more energy to produce a unit of this fertilizer chemically when compared to the organic manufacturing processes that exist today.
4. Ammonium sulfate fertilizer doesn’t improve soil structures.
The goal of using ammonium sulfate fertilizer is to support healthier plant growth. This product does nothing when it comes to an evaluation of the soil structure. Chemical fertilizers don’t enhance the long-term health of fields, nor does it supply more life within the garden since it doesn’t contain organic matter.
If you have a successful growing season that establishes a robust root base and organic materials that can get recycled into the soil, then a positive outcome is still possible. The fertilizer by itself won’t create that result. When your season isn’t as strong as you’d want it to be, then the soil doesn’t get as healthy.
5. You can still over-apply ammonium sulfate.
Farmers and growers must be careful in terms of the amount of ammonium sulfate fertilizer they use to amend their soil. The fast release of nutrients makes it easy to apply too much of this product to the growing plants, upsetting the entire ecosystem of the property or region. Since this item tends to filter away from the crops that you grow, there is always a need to apply more of it as time passes.
That means it can be challenging to know the precise amount of fertilizer to apply to your soil, even when best practices in labeling get followed every day.
6. It isn’t suitable for repetitive applications.
Ammonium sulfate fertilizer isn’t recommended for use when repetitive applications and long-term solutions are necessary to improve soil health. These items can produce a buildup of dangerous chemicals and toxins that could be life-threatening in some situations. Research indicates that uranium, cadmium, and arsenic can all be found in higher concentrations when using this fertilizer option outside of its normal recommendations.
7. This fertilizer might permanently change the pH of the soil.
If you were to apply ammonium sulfate fertilizer over several growing seasons without enough moisture to work with the product, then the pH of the soil could change permanently. This disadvantage applies to all chemical fertilizers, and it can also be a problem with the overuse of some organics.
When the soil experiences a permanent pH alteration, then an increase in greenhouse gas emissions can occur. This outcome offers the potential of killing off entire ecosystems.
8. It can change the nutrient yield of the crops grown during the season.
If farmers apply a fertilizer that contains too much nitrogen, then the result is called “crop lodging.” This outcome reduces the yield, and it can also change the nutrient profile of the plants grown. It is known to create high protein levels in wheat and barley, reduce the oil content in canola, and lower the sugar content in sugar beets.
Applying ammonium sulfate fertilizer can also lengthen the time it takes for a crop to reach maturity. That means cold weather climates face an increased risk of frost injury before harvest can occur.
9. The long-term use of ammonium sulfate fertilizer can lead to soil acidification.
Soil acidification occurs when the pH levels gradually get lower over the years. Fertilizers that contain high levels of nitrogen and sulfate are the most acidifying when farmers and growers use them over several years. The nitrogen in ammonium form converts to nitrate-N for plant uptake, which acidifies the hydrogen ions that get released. If the soil pH levels reach 6.0, then it will have ten times the hydrogen-plus ion concentration versus a field that tests at a pH 7.0.
Some crops do like to have acidic soil, so the optimal range for growth is typically a pH between 5.5 and 8. If you fall outside of that range, then an ammonium sulfate fertilizer is probably not the best choice to consider.
10. It may not be legal to use in some areas of the world.
A ban on ammonium sulfate products has been in place for over a decade in Pakistan. Afghanistan followed in 2010 to ban this substance because of reports that militants were using the fertilizer to create explosives. It joins ammonium nitrate and calcium ammonium nitrate in that regard. The United States experienced the potential of this product with this disadvantage during the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995. You will need to check with your local jurisdiction to understand what legal complications may exist before applying it to your soil.
Ammonium sulfate fertilizer is a useful product when a soil foundation requires immediate improvement. Farmers and growers can support their seedlings when this product gets applied to their fields and gardens. With ongoing and careful tending, it is possible to produce higher yields, healthier plants, and stronger soil.
The irresponsible use of this product can lead to a number of problematic outcomes. Even when you apply fertilizer in the appropriate amount, its placement can still impact the entire growing cycle for the season.
That’s why the advantages and disadvantages of ammonium sulfate fertilizer must receive careful consideration. If you apply too much or not enough of it, then it can reduce the quality of your crops and annual yields. That’s why knowing what the right amount is for your situation is critical information to have for the final decision. Some growers find that organics can provide better results because of local conditions.
Natalie Regoli, Esq. is the author of this post and the editor-in-chief of our blog. She received her B.A. in Economics from the University of Washington and her Masters in Law from The University of Texas School of Law. In addition to being a seasoned writer, Natalie has almost two decades of experience as a lawyer and banker. If you would like to reach out to contact Natalie, then go here to send her a message.