Of the three big fertilizers used in agriculture (nitrogen, potassium, phosphorus), two are minerals that must be mined. Potassium (“potash”) is a mineral that is mined, processed, and then spread on fields as fertilizer in most modern, industrial farming. Potash is of paramount importance to the cereal grains that make up most of the world`s current base foods. Using current industrial farming methods, the available supply of “easy” potash is going to run out soon. When that happens, a huge portion of our agriculture will collapse.
Cereal grains require between 45 and 60 pounds of potash per ton of hay (equivalent).1 Currently, in industrialized farming, most of this is added in raw form as fertilizers (muriate of potash). In organic farming, they are added through manures and from composts made up of the unused crop fibers.
Two of the primary reasons that most forage crops are not grown organically is because of “mono-cropping” (growing only one crop on an acreage) and contractual obligations the farm makes to seed suppliers. Usually the two reasons go hand-in-hand with seed suppliers like Monsanto requiring growers to sign contracts for several years of seed purchasing and crop output at a time.
This mono-cropping depletes the soil of vital nutrients without replenishment and is only possible if those nutrients are replaced artificially.
The trouble is, we`re using a lot of energy (oil) to gather those minerals and then still more energy to distribute them to farmers for use. The minerals that were easy to get to and very close to the agricultural heartlands are getting harder and harder to find or are entirely gone. So these minerals come from further field, requiring much more energy to transport and use.
According to data from the U.S. Geological Survey, phosphate has been on the decline in America for some time. Extraction peaked in the late 1970s and has been dropping ever since, with current levels matching pre-1970 numbers and continuing to decline. In the past decade, in fact, the U.S. has been importing phosphorus.2
Studies are showing that by tilling under the unused biomass from crops rather than burning, harvesting for other purposes (usually to be burned as fuel), or leaving fallow over the winter, the nutrients can be returned to the soil for greater availability upon replanting. This is especially true where cover crops are employed to “hold the soil” during the winter months.3 Yet this practice is becoming less and less common as the farmers who practice industrial agriculture nearly always leave their fields bare during winter months and then “replenish” them with artificial fertilizers in the spring.
This wasteful method of farming might be profitable for some Big Ag growers, but it is destructive, wasteful, and unsustainable.
It is up to us, as consumers, to demand more sustainable methods from our agriculture while we can still do so. As resources become more and more scarce, costs for food will rise and those who grow our food may find themselves unable to do so. This will cascade quickly unless we stop it now.
Forcing the issue through laws and regulations is not likely to work (if it could ever be done). Only by “voting with our forks,” can we, as consumers, truly make a difference. By growing our own food, buying local foods grown sustainably, and keeping much of our money out of Big Agriculture`s hands, we can take back our dinner tables and stop the pending food crisis and starvation that are sure to come if things do not change soon.
1 – Maintaining Phosphorus & Potassium Levels, Penn State Univ.
2 – U.S. Minerals Databrowser: Phosphate, The Oil Drum
3 – Crop rotation and tillage effects on phosphorus distribution in the central Great Plains by R.A. Bowman, A. D. Halvorson, Soil Science Society of America, 1997 V61 No5.
4 – Take Notice of the Sustainability Factor and the Disposable Economy of the World, Part III by Aaron Turpen, NaturalNews
5 – The Sustainability Factor: What Sustainability Means and Why You Need to Know by Aaron Turpen