Down with Foreign Fertilizer!?

Down with Foreign Fertilizer!?

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Like all of you, I haven’t read the Republican platform and won’t read the Democratic one, either, but some journalists DO, and one newspaper helpfully listed what they consider the 10 oddest items in the Republican Platform.  And darned if number 4 isn’t right on topic for us gardeners:

End our dependence on foreign… fertilizer? “Our dependence on foreign imports of fertilizer could threaten our food supply, and we support the development of domestic production of fertilizer.”

Phosphate Mine

The story went on to offer a link to, this analysis of “America’s potential fertilizer woes,” which is titled “Forget Oil, Worry about Phosphorus.”  Seems that “the world’s agriculture depends on a mineral that is declining in production and is controlled by a cartel of companies.”

Indeed there are lots of alarming reports about “peak phosphorus” but at least we buy it mainly from domestic sources, and the U.S. actually exports about half its phosphorus production – for now.  Our domestic reserves are expected to be gone in 15 to 30 years, after which we’ll have to get it from places like Morocco and China, which together have 60 percent of the world’s reserves.

But wait; the problem isn’t just phosphorus; the other major nutrients are also of concern.  The U.S. imports more than half its nitrogen (mainly from Trinidad, Tobago, Canada and Russia) and 86% of its potassium (mainly from Canada and Russia).  And according to Grist, the real problem IS nitrogen, for which we’re increasingly dependent on other nations.

So, finding more domestic sources of these nutrients is a priority, but another tack is to use less of them and waste less of them, especially the ones that run off into our waterways and pollute them.

Stepping back, experts outside the fertilizer industry point to the generally unsustainable nature of our industrial food production system that relies so heavily on these diminishing supplies of fossil fuel and mined fertilizer.  Well, yeah.

Sadly, it didn’t take much googling for me to realize this is all far too complex for me, a psych major turned gardenblogger, but I was still curious about the politics of this.  Reading the response of the Fertilizer Institute raised more questions than answers because they say domestic production is on the upswing; not to worry.

But a popular political blog offers some context for inclusion of fertilizer in a major party platform, and it makes sense – in that crazy way that things make sense only in politics.

So what’s really behind this? Nitrogen based fertilizer is made from ammonia which is made from natural gas. From the late 90’s until a couple of years ago the rising price of natural gas made it cheaper to import nitrogen fertilizer from places with little or no environmental regulation than to produce it domestically and much of the US based production shut down. Trinidad is the biggest producer of imported fertilizer and has very little environmental regulation. Producing fertilizer is a very dirty and polluting enterprise. Since natural gas prices have fallen in the US, some shuttered domestic plants are slated for reactivation and the owners don’t want the EPA regulating their dirty business. One of the big fertilizer producers is Koch Fertilizer, which also owns production capacity in Trinidad.

But readers, what do YOU think?  Anyone want to speak up for good old compost?

Photo credit:  Greater Yellowstone Coalition

Posted by

Susan Harris
on September 4, 2012 at 7:16 am, in the category What’s Happening.

13 Comments
    • Timeless Environments
    • 31st July 2016

    I don’t believe it’s necessary to read either groups platform. In the heat of election either side will say anything to get the power. If you want the truth, then follow both of their historical record of what it is they’ve actually done. Most likely you’ll find the slime trail left behind both groups hard rather hard to tell apart. The present ongoing destruction of the environment out in the western part of your country under the cloak of Eco-Green when it comes to Solar & Wind Energy is still run by the same political giants who contribute to both campaigns.

    • nob
    • 8th November 2016

    Timeless, while I agree that politicians from both sides of the aisle will routinely climb into bed with any and every corporate concern that flutters cash into their campaign fund, as a gardener who votes I have to reject out of hand a presidential candidate who mocks the idea of climate change in his nomination acceptance speech.

    • admin
    • 13th November 2016

    Totally and completely unsustainable… I’m inclined to think that the only way forward is to use Permaculture methods.

    • Christopher C NC
    • 13th November 2016

    Former sea floor pushed up into the Himalayas. I wonder how much phosphorus and other valuable minerals there are in Afghanistan?

    • Rachelle
    • 14th November 2016

    In reply to Chris C, NC, LOTS, mostly the newly discovered metals in Afghanistan are the “rare earths” used in making electronic devices and batteries. For corporation to want to invest in infrastructure to mine these there needs to be a stable government there.

    • Timeless Environments
    • 15th November 2016

    What is being spoken about here is the science-based large marketing corporate Chemical Fertilizers for example Miracle Grow which was mentioned. If you look at most all Miracle Grow products they are in a crystal salt form. Hence the old expression when referring to plant nutrients “Salts”.

    • Laura Bell
    • 15th November 2016

    I have occasion now & them to drive down through California’s Central Valley & observe the agricultural goings-on along the way. What has really struck me for many years is that you’ll find a dairy farm/stockyard next to a field. The land with the cows invariably has a large pile of manure that he cannot get rid of & must handle as toxic waste … while the land with the plants is being treated with chemical fertilizers to increase its bounty. You’d think the neighbors could get together & take care of one another’s problems, huh ?

    • Timeless Environments
    • 15th November 2016

    Agreed Laura, but unfortunately logic in doing the right thing doesn’t prevail when there is all this money to be made by a handful of corporations who put the wrong men in power. Seriously, it’s worked this way as long as mankind’s been on the Earth.

    • Hoov
    • 15th November 2016

    Unfortunately the cattle manure is contaminated with e. coli, salmonella, sodium chloride, growth hormones, antibiotics, and so on.

    • admin
    • 15th November 2016

    Does anybody see a big opportunity in the waste-to-fertilizer market in the next few years and decades? Milorganite is my favorite fertilizer for my bamboos and other ornamentals.

    • The Phytophactor
    • 16th November 2016

    There’s definitely something rotten about such a platform topic. How about foreign cheese or foreign wine? Or even worse, foreign plants! Yes, let’s get rid of all those illegal immigrant plants, but only after the USA annexes Mexico so we can survive on maize, beans, and squash.

    • Jason
    • 16th November 2016

    I don’t know enough to have an opinion on where we should get our nitrogen, I only know that we should use less of it. What’s more frightening to me is the fact that public policy in this country is simply sold to the highest bidder.

    • Timeless Environments
    • 16th November 2016

    Jason:
    “I don’t know enough to have an opinion on where we should get our nitrogen, I only know that we should use less of it.”
    ====

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