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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.

4 Comments

    • Timeless Environments
    • 6th 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
    • 1st August 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.

    • Susan
    • 7th November 2016

    Well, the paragraph from the political blog tells me everything I need to know – the infamous Koch brothers are fertilizer producers. (That also pretty much explains where the GOP platform comes from; there’s fertilizer aplenty in that.) Anyway, it isn’t surprising that no one talks about green alternatives – that’s a dirty word (pardon the pun) where the GOP is concerned. Common sense doesn’t grab headlines these days, although given how rare it is, you’d think it would…..compost, using a mulching mower – these are the things that are easy and free and available to anyone. Which is probably just what the politicians don’t like about it.

    • admin
    • 15th November 2016

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

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