As if 2020 wasn’t a year for the history books already, in September an international team of astronomers announced that they had found tentative evidence of microbial life in the planet Venus’ atmosphere: phosphine gas. On Earth, phosphine gas is considered a conclusive biosignature as it can only be produced two ways: either artificially in the laboratory, or by certain kinds of microbes that live in oxygen-free environments. Although this gas is far from conclusive proof of alien life, it certainly makes a compelling case that we are not alone in the universe, even if the only other living organisms are microbes residing in the atmosphere of Venus.
Back on Earth, even without the threat of alien invasion, there is a palpable tension as the number of new coronavirus cases continues to rise with over 38.5 million people worldwide having tested positive for the virus, and over 1.09 million people having died as a result. Across Europe, governments are introducing new restrictions to battle a second wave of infections. Here in the UK, the resurgence of cases has forced the government to devise a tier system, whereby some areas of the UK are back under full lockdown following local outbreaks of the virus. The country as a whole is under curfew, with all pubs and bars being forced to shut at 22:00 in an effort to staunch the spread. Similarly, nine cities in France, including Paris, have received a curfew from 21:00 to 06:00, which came into effect on 16 October, and will last at least 4 weeks. In Germany too, pubs and bars in higher-risk areas have been told they must close early. Partial lockdowns have been put into force in both the Netherlands and Spain, with those areas having to close all bars, cafes, and restaurants. This list goes on, and I am sure by the time this issue lands on your desks, a whole swath of new regulations will be in place all over the world.
The dramatic global economic downturn that has occurred as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, and the subsequent collapse in crude oil prices, has had wide-ranging implications on the fertilizer industry. With the pandemic seemingly getting worse, it will be interesting to see how the fertilizer industry navigates 4Q20. However, in just the first week of the quarter, the international ammonia market at least has remained somewhat stable in terms of prices on both sides of the Suez. After a short-term supply squeeze in the Asia-Pacific, it appears that the restart of ammonia exporting plants in Indonesia has brought some stability to the market.
And in another piece of good news, I am proud to announce that World Fertilizer will be running our first ever international online conference on 3 December 2020. 'Plant Optimisation 2020' is a completely virtual one-day conference focusing on the latest developments and innovations within the fertilizer industry. And you can join us for this exciting one-day conference from anywhere in the world, absolutely free. All you need to do is register to reserve your space, and we'll keep you informed about what time the conference will launch on 3 December so that you can tune in live. And if you're busy on the day, that's no problem at all. Everyone who signs up to attend will receive an email recording of the entire conference, so you can watch all of the presentations at a time that suits you. For more information and to sign up for free, please visit: www.worldfertilizer.com/plantoptimisation2020