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.”
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