Pharmaceuticals 5th December 2022 5 min read

Sustainable management of soil

The International Union of Soil Science (IUSS) introduced World Soil Day on the 5th of December 2002, with a focus on the value of healthy soil and increasing our knowledge on the sustainable management of soil.  

The International Union of Soil Science (IUSS) introduced World Soil Day on the 5th of December 2002, with a focus on the value of healthy soil and increasing our knowledge on the sustainable management of soil.  

Using greener, more environmentally friendly processes and ingredients is vital to achieving responsible farming and healthier soil. To better understand how we can protect soil and maintain healthy ecosystems, we spoke to some of our Agrochemical experts to discuss three key topics – seed coatings, fertilisers, and microplastics.

Seed coatings

An example of employing greener ingredients to maintain soil health is the use of sustainable seed coatings. Seed coatings can be used for various reasons, including altering the seeds' size, weight, shape, and uniformity of surface to make them simpler to sow. Benefits include lower production costs, support and promotion of plant development, and the ability to use less toxic/harmful chemicals. 

We sat with Dries Decoutere, Account Manager at IMCD Benelux, to understand the challenges surrounding the seed coating industry and to discuss the sustainable options that are available on the market today.

What are the current issues surrounding the seed coating process?

Dries: Firstly, it's important to know what seed coatings are used for. For our customers, it could be for a variety of reasons. They could want a specific coating colouring, or perhaps they'd like a regular seed shape. This is a common problem as machinery used in farming requires a regular format and size to be more effective in the sowing process. A more defined shape makes it easier to plant. 

Another example could be applying coatings to increase weight. This is sometimes done as a very simple increase in the weight of the seed can help sell it at a higher cost because they are sold per kilogram or per gram.  Finally, an increasingly common reason for seed coating is the application of different types of micronutrients, fungicides and biopesticides. All are used to protect the seed and to make sure that it will germinate.

Based on all these options, there can be different challenges in creating a seed coating. If we start from the very beginning where we have just the normal binder and you create a formulation, getting the specifics right can be the first challenge.  At IMCD, we are able to support our customers with these requirements.

How is IMCD looking into introducing more sustainable alternatives?

Dries: We are constantly looking at finding sustainable solutions. For example, we have binders that are more biobased, and we have anti-foam wetting agents. With a new upcoming regulation, we are also focusing  on offering microplastic-free coating solutions.

This new regulation, which is expected in the near future, provides a requirement of the amount of microplastics that can be used in the coating. Hence, it’s vital for every business to find a suitable option.

Currently, the answer to this is to find biobased or biodegradable solutions. Our IMCD Agrochemicals division has been one step ahead, collaborating with AMULIX (Covestro)  since last year. Amulix have tested their ready-to-use coating on multiple seeds - from forage crops to different types of vegetable seeds and many more. There has also been research on the different type of colours available; everything to ensure the coating works and is effective. As this regulation forms a new challenge in the market, every farmer, and every customer needs to switch to a new type of seed coating, which is where IMCD can help. 

Alongside this collaboration, we are also looking at ready-to-use and formulation-specific alternatives to make sure we continue to stay ahead of the curve.



To understand how things are changing in the industry, we spoke to Michal Archman - the IMCD Director of Agrochemicals – about his views on fertilisers. 

Along with taking steps to enhance the seed coating process, it's critical to recognise how using common fertilisers impacts us and what can be done to reduce toxicity.  

There are several types of fertiliser. In essence, they are concentrated sources of plant nutrients, frequently in the shape of pellets, granules, liquids, powders, or other compact forms. The benefits include the ability to accelerate plant development and, in certain situations, boost yield. The drawback is that the chemicals frequently create pollution since they are readily carried away by water.

One of the disadvantages of fertiliser usage is the pollution it can cause. What are the ways in which this is changing and what does IMCD do to support positive changes in the reduction of toxic side effects? 

Michal: Indeed, while no-one would argue that the continuous use of fertilisers is a simple must, more and more people are aware of the damage they can bring if used in excess. When you look at Nitrogen and how its chemical sources are used in fields today, the vast majority ends up in the atmosphere as greenhouse gases or in surface waters as pollutants causing eutrophication. This is the result of a rather primitive method of ‘delivering’ those chemicals to the field, in the form of water-soluble granules. At IMCD, we focus on developing solutions where those chemicals can be locked in a system with sustained release properties – leaking the nutrients in dosed amounts to the soil in a controlled manner. Another way of stopping nitrogen loss is through the use of urease inhibitors. IMCD also offers technologies that enable the safe use of these products in fertiliser formulations.

Where do you see future of fertilisers going? Are there industrial changes you are seeing?

Michal: A key focus will be on data-driven and precision farming. On the one hand, farmers will use live data to learn what are the needs of their crops, and on the other, precisely measured and targeted doses of pesticides, fertilisers or biostimulants will be delivered to those plants in response, all with the aim of optimising the yield. Close to zero waste and minimised side effects are of course the ideal, but I think this is the direction where we are heading. 


The prevalence of microplastics is another important issue impacting soil health. Every day, there isn’t a huge amount of plastic that is recycled or burned in waste-to-energy facilities. Much of it is disposed of in landfills, where it may take up to 1,000 years to decay, releasing potentially harmful materials into the soil and water. 

IMCD Technical Manager for Agrochemicals, Caroline Freier shared her thoughts with us on the significance of using biodegradable substances. 

How do we avoid the accumulation of Microplastics in our soil?

Caroline: The impact of ocean microplastics has been widely reported and the subject of significant media and scientific attention in recent years.  However, research is showing that most microplastics are accumulating on land, including agricultural land.  The use of sewage sludge as a fertiliser inevitably, but unintentionally, releases microplastics to the land due to the sludge containing microplastics, which have been removed from wastewater.  But in addition to this, the intentional use of plastic products in slow-release fertiliser capsules and seed coatings also contributes to the problem. As such, the development of agricultural products with microplastic-free, sustainable ingredients, is a key focus for many manufacturers.  The use of emerging technologies like biostimulants and biofertilisers will also help combat the accumulation of microplastics in the environment.  

Can you talk to us about any promising developments in biodegradable ingredients?

Caroline: Leading manufacturers that IMCD partner with have recognised that there is a need to rapidly develop seed treatment binders that are not only water soluble, but also fully biodegradable. Furthermore, their priority is to use raw materials that are naturally derived and biobased. The goal is to allow formulators to create more natural and sustainable seed treatment products without compromising performance in the field. There is also a focus on developing biodegradable formulation inerts for use in crop protection products such as surfactants, rheology modifiers and solvents. High quality products already on the market today are being used to create the next generation of leading and sustainable agrochemical formulations.

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