OCP: Feeding the Soil to Feed the Planet

By Krista Maruca of OCP North America

OCP Group is a global player with a leadership position across the phosphate value chain in extracting, marketing and selling phosphate and its derivatives. As the top global producer of phosphate in all its forms – rock, acid, and phosphate-based fertilizer – OCP has a strong international presence on all five continents. Recognizing the significant role OCP plays at the top of the value chain as a supplier of the world’s phosphate needs, the company joined the Sustainable Phosphorus Alliance as a foundational supporter and board member at its launch in 2016.

OCP’s Approach to Phosphorus Sustainability

OCP’s unique position requires continually striving to innovate in order to improve environmental sustainability and phosphorus efficiency. As part of that mission, OCP has set ambitious goals with the launch of its Circular Economy program in 2018, which is oriented around four pillars: natural resource preservation, sustainable production, smart consumption, and creation of value through transformation and recycling. This circular approach aims to better integrate its industrial ecosystem with the natural environment and communities in which it operates. In its industrial operations, OCP has publicly committed to goals to transition to 100% green power through solar, wind, and co-generation; zero consumption of public water resources through desalination and purification of wastewater; a reduction in emissions and waste by-products through the use of newly available technology; and to maximize the value of low-content phosphate and other recoverable minerals. Those goals are well on their way to being met through significant investments in new technology to more efficiently source phosphorus.

In the US, OCP’s North American subsidiary has set in motion plans to further the mission of sustainable phosphorus on a local level. On-farm nutrient management has come under the national spotlight in recent years due to highly visible algal blooms that disrupt local business, tourism, and recreation. In some years, when adverse weather conditions lead to a particularly nasty bloom, the issue has risen to crisis levels. The science of phosphorus runoff is complex, with fertilizers’ application rate, timing, source, and placement all playing a role in phosphorus losses to the environment. Moreover, fields with various soil types and management histories have divergent needs, meaning there is no one-size-fits-all solution to reduce runoff. 4R Nutrient Stewardship — working with farmers to ensure applications are at the right place, right time, right rate, and right source — is one approach to close the loop on phosphorus losses. Responsible nutrient stewardship can minimize impact on the environment and rural communities and has positive impacts for the farmers we serve by advancing soil health and productivity. OCP North America is a partner in the 4R effort to promote sustainable on-farm management of phosphorus in the US and Canada.

Platform for Scientific Research and Collaboration

Joining the Sustainable Phosphorus Alliance is not only in line with OCP’s own corporate mission but also fills an important need for the sector more broadly. As farming communities and local policy-makers grapple with ways to reduce nutrient loading into waterways and limit waste, there is a greater need for collaborative research that will provide a scientific basis of understanding of the complex issues of soil health, water quality, and phosphorus management. The Alliance’s ability to bring together technical experts from industry and academia is the first step to advancing shared knowledge of phosphorus dynamics and ensuring evidence-based decision-making.

OCP is proud to contribute to this effort, including by making it a focus of faculty and students at the University Mohammed VI Polytechnique (UM6P). Inaugurated in January 2017 and housed in Ben Guerir, Morocco, several UM6P programs and joint research projects tackle challenges linked to phosphorus sustainability. At the School of Agriculture, Fertilizers, and Environmental Sciences, students learn about environmental conditions in African agriculture for preserving water, soil quality, and natural resources. Programs in industrial operations build upon mining and fertilizer manufacturing technology, including through a new experimental mine that provides a full-scale living lab for developing new innovations in phosphate mining. Exchanges with the scientific community in the Alliance network offer the opportunity for UM6P researchers to contribute to the growing body of global knowledge on phosphorus sustainability.

Making a real impact on phosphorus use efficiency will require collaboration across all players in the value chain; the Alliance creates that space by providing a platform for cooperation and new partnerships. OCP is looking forward to continuing its leadership in the Alliance and building relationships with other new members in the coming years.

Opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the Sustainable Phosphorus Alliance.

About OCP North America

The OCP Group is the world’s largest exporter of phosphate rock and phosphoric acid, as well as one of the world’s largest producers of fertilizer. The company is integrated across the entire phosphate value chain, extracting, marketing and selling phosphate and its derivatives, phosphoric acid, and fertilizers. Headquartered in Morocco, the OCP Group is the largest corporate employer in the country. OCP’s North American subsidiary was launched as OCP Research LLC in 2016 and transitioned to OCP North America in February 2019 to manage its engagements across the U.S. and Canada.