Global use of fertilizer products is set to surpass 200.5 million tonnes in 2018, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations said this week. That's 25 percent higher than recorded in 2008.

According to a new FAO report, world fertilizer consumption will vary by region but will grow by an overall 1.8 percent a year through 2018, while production capacity for fertilizer products, intermediates and raw materials will expand at a faster rate.

With the potential to produce fertilizers outpacing their use, FAO expects the global potential balance — a technical term measuring the amount available over actual demand — to increase for nitrogen, phosphate and potash, the main three soil fertilizers.

The organization projects that global use of nitrogen, by far the largest fertilizer base, will rise 1.4 percent each year through 2018, while phosphate use will increase 2.2 percent and potash 2.6 percent. In comparison, the supply of those three components is expected to grow by 3.7 percent, 2.7 percent and 4.2 percent per annum, respectively.

Although it acknowledges the benefits of fertilizer, FAO promotes methods of maintaining or restoring soil health while relying on fewer inputs to sustainably increase crop productivity. For example, the use of locally-tailored crop rotations, mulching and manure can restore nitrogen to soils. And some plants, notably legumes such as soybeans, have micro-organisms in their root systems that take nitrogen from air and make it available to plants, the organization said.

FAO has also developed methods to monitor crop conditions in real time, allowing growers to apply fertilizer more precisely — reducing waste and the harm caused by nitrogen runoff.