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International Forwarding Association Blog » Specialized transportation » Guidelines for Shipping Harmless and Hazardous Fertilizers
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Guidelines for Shipping Harmless and Hazardous Fertilizers

Fertilizers are cargo that has major importance for agricultural produce around the world. In fact, research shows that about 60 percent of the increase in production during the last decades has been due to the use of fertilizers. With population growth, need is constantly increasing, and they are exported and imported by various countries across the globe.

Here is a brief intro to the main fertilizers shipped by international freight forwarders as well as the specifics in terms of discharging and loading.

Shipping Harmless and Hazardous Fertilizers

Types of Exports

The main fertilizers that are shipped as bulk cargo include sulphur, phosphates, potash, and urea. Major exporters of phosphates are countries in North Africa and the Middle East, Morocco being the leader. India is the biggest importer. Potash is mainly exported by Canada, Chile, Israel, Germany, Belarus, and Russia while major importers are India and the U.S. Urea is produced by the Arab Gulf and Baltic Sea countries and China and is imported by countries in Latin America, Europe, Australia, and India. Finally for sulphur, the U.S., Kazakhstan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Canada are the biggest exporting states, the main importers being China, South America, and Morocco.

How Are Fertilizers Shipped

Given the large volume of trade worldwide, proper handling is of major importance. Fertilizers are typically shipped in bags or in bulk and for substances that are considered explosive or hazardous goods, the International Maritime Organization’s IMDG Code recommends displaying information about the characteristics and type of cargo. The majority of fertilizers are not hazardous, however, and are referred to as bulk harmless fertilizers. One example of dangerous cargo is ammonium nitrate, which requires special handling.

In general, fertilizers can be shipped in bulk or in bags that are made from polythene or woven polypropylene. Losses are mainly due to bags being damaged, whether burst or torn in transit. Due to risks of compaction and coagulation, some fertilizers are subject to special handling, including potassium nitrate, ammonium nitrate, and urea. They can be shipped in bulk, up to 1 tonne in flexible intermediate bulk containers, or in 50 kg bags. The main reasons for coagulation and compaction include condensation, bagging and loading in humid weather, insufficient curing or priming times, and anti-caking agent not applied in sufficient amounts. Drying should also be carried out before cargo loading, which can be done by a blown air system. It is mainly farmers that face problems due to coagulation and compaction, including damage to machinery, spillage, and low application rates.

When two or more fertilizers are shipped, the recommendations laid out in the IMGD Code should be followed as the substances may be incompatible with one another. This also holds for cargo that is not considered dangerous. Also, some types are known to lead to corrosion of steel and paintwork damages, and they should be kept dry in transit. Loading and unloading operations should not be carried out during rainy weather or precipitation.