For this post, I need you to put your farmer hat on (chewing straw is optional, but if you’ve got overalls, I’ll put mine on too) and take a walk with me through the somewhat technical explanation and history of synthetic fertilizers.
The most used ones are nitrogen based. The idea is that nitrogen has to be fixed, which is a fancy way of saying that the atoms have to be taken apart, to be used by plants. Only two things do this naturally: lightning and certain types of bacteria.
In 1909, German physical chemist Fritz Haber developed a high-temperature, high-pressure process to fix atmospheric nitrogen in his lab. Another German chemist, Carl Bosch, soon expanded Haber’s process to a factory scale. Known as the Haber-Bosch process, industrial fixation of nitrogen combines atmospheric nitrogen and hydrogen into ammonia, the basis for all synthetic nitrogen fertilizers. The case against synthetic fertilizers
If you’re doing it the organic way, the basic formula is that you use manure, cover crops or compost, and then rely on bacteria in the ground to convert the nitrogen. It gets taken up by the plant, and then put back into the soil when the plants die, or the animal that consumed them excretes them, or the animal itself dies.
If you do it the conventional way you just douse the land with these synthetic fertilizers.
And guess what? Synthetic nitrogen fertilizer became popular in the U.S. after World War II when leftover ammonium nitrate munitions were marketed for agricultural use. Organic Valley – Why Organic. Hmmm. I’m sensing a trend here…
Okay, so let me get this straight, people. Ammonia, the same shit in my cleaner at home that I would never put in my body because it’s so caustic – is the basis for the synthetic fertilizer that you put in the soil to be taken up by the plants?
Oh no, wait. It gets BETTER. The basis of the synthetic fertilizers is natural gas, which makes up between 70 and 80% of the cost of the fertilizer. Yup, natural gas. Which is a non-renewable resource.
AND, if you order in the next five minutes…you’ll find that it has really shitty consequences for the environment (please pardon the pun because using manure would be good shitty consequences). It contaminates the ground water to the point of creating dead zones like the one in the Gulf of Mexico, creates smog (and therefore greenhouse gases), and contributes to acid rain. It also degrades the nutrient content of the soil so that what is grown there has less nutrients and there is more run-off because it the soil loses its sponginess. Which means it’s not sustainable.
That’s a lot of science and environmental talk for, “What the hell were you people thinking?!?!”
I’m only halfway through the formal definition of organic, but I think the next post calls for a “Come to Jesus” talk about how I felt about all this information when I first came across it. I am hopeful it will involve more eloquent language than the four letter words that are coming to mind over and over again. P.S. None of those words is love.