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Farmer reveals the 'terrifying' reality of Australia's urea shortage

Daily Mail logo Daily Mail 10/12/2021 Peter Vincent and Stephen Johnson For Daily Mail Australia
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An Australian farmer fears the urea supply crisis could halt normal life within weeks if it is not resolved. 

Matt Ferguson-Tait, a cattle farmer and pig hunter from Far North Queensland, posted a viral TikTok in which he said Australia could 'come to a standstill' because of the shortage of the essential chemical. 

Urea has hit the news because it is needed to produce a key fuel additive for the millions of diesel vehicles that move goods across Australia - including to supermarkets.

But the farmer claimed the 'worldwide' shortage of urea is even more 'frightening' than we realise because it is has so many uses beyond transport. 

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Urea is an organic compound used by cattle farmers to add nitrogen to feed which promotes growth.

The substance is also a cheap fertiliser for fruit and vegetable crops.

Stockpiles of urea are running low globally after China this year banned exports in a bid to contain fertiliser prices.

Mr Ferguson-Tait claimed most of what is in Australian fridges and cupboards - including meat, vegetables, grains and beer - needs urea for commercial production. 

'Go and have a look in your cupboard and go and have a look in your fridge and I guarantee just about every single item there, at some point, urea has been used to produce that item, whether it's a steak or a salad or a can of baked beans,' he said. 

'That is terrifying in itself.' 

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What is urea?

Urea is an extraordinarily versatile organic compound with literally hundreds of commercial uses.

It is commonly used as an agricultural fertiliser but a more refined version is added to diesel engines to reduce nitric oxide exhaust fumes

This diesel exhaust fluid is marketed in Australia as AdBlue containing 32 per cent urea and 68 per cent de-ionised water

The product, injected into the exhaust system, is used in diesel cars along with civil construction and farming machinery

China supplies 80 per cent of the Asia-Pacific region's diesel-grade urea

Urea is also used in cattle feed to promote growth, and in the production of barley to make beer.

It is used in in laboratory settings, and is a key ingredient in skin creams.

It is also used in hair removers, tooth whiteners and as a flame-proofing agent.  

An obvious outcome of farmers turning to alternative fertilisers would be higher prices for production.

This would be passed onto consumers at the supermarket checkout. 

Video: Farmers to be paid to improve field soil (Sky News)


Mr Ferguson-Tait added that urea is used to grow barley in commercial beer production.  

'Without urea you have no beer.'

Urea is a major ingredient in skin creams, including psoriasis and eczema treatments.

It is also used in dish soap, fire extinguishers, hair removers and tooth whiteners. 

Urea has made headlines in recent weeks because it's a key additive in an anti-pollutant required to run the transport industry's diesel engines. 

Modern motors powering trucks, utes and four-wheel drives won't start unless an additive called AdBlue - which is 32 per cent urea - has been added to the exhaust system to reduce the levels of nitric oxide pollution.

Half of all trucks on Australian roads run on diesel along with a quarter of all registered vehicles. 

Energy Minister Angus Taylor admitted Australia's existing supplies were likely to run out by the middle of January and has appointed a former Donald Trump adviser to help devise a solution.    

'Not only will we not be able to grow cattle and we will not be able to grow food and we will not be able to grow grain or anything like that, but even if we could, we can't move it, because we can't turn a wheel in a truck because we have no Adblue,' Mr Ferguson-Tait said. 

'And that's pretty frickin frightening. That seriously to me is absolutely terrifying.

'As of February we might not have a truck on the road in Australia, we might not have a train on the tracks.

'So quite literally the whole country comes to a standstill as of February.'

Mr Taylor's office released a statement late on Thursday night revealing Australia had 15million litres left of AdBlue in storage 'which is equivalent to close to five weeks of business-as-usual demand'. 

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Shipments en route to Australia would provide another 'two weeks of additional supply to the market'.

Mr Taylor blamed China, Australia's biggest trading partner, for the crisis without specifically citing their export ban on refined urea.

'Global supply pressures, stemming from increased domestic use in China, have led to international issues in securing refined urea, which is key to producing AdBlue,' he said.

Mr Taylor has done a round of media interviews calling on motorists to avoid hoarding AdBlue. 

Service stations are now running low on stock and are banning customers from panic buying more AdBlue than they need as Australia's only urea maker, Incitec Pivot, prepares to cease production next year.

Daily Mail Australia approached the CSIRO for comment. 

Mr Taylor has formed an AdBlue Taskforce featuring Saudi Aramco director Andrew Liveris, the former chairman and chief executive of The Dow Chemical Company who previously adviser led former US President Donald Trump's American Manufacturing Council.

James Fazzino, a former CEO of Incitec Pivot who chairs of Manufacturing Australia, will lead this taskforce that will also include Dr Cathy Foley, Australia's Chief Scientist.


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