There are three main fertilizers used in agriculture: ammonia, phosphoric acid, and nitric acid. They provide three important nutrients to plants: nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Fertilizers are added to fields to increase the yield of crops, and different crops need different amounts of nutrients.
There are several problems to keep in mind when thinking of fertilizers. They are:
- Producing fertilizers on an industrial level requires a lot of energy and results in significant release of greenhouse gases.
- Phosphate (which is mined from the ground and provides phosphorus) is a finite resource.
- Fertilizers end up in water bodies–from streams and rivers to the oceans–and negatively impact the environment by spoiling the balance of nutrients in ecosystems. This results in problems such as algal blooms. This is not only a problem for biodiversity and the natural environment, but affects us when, for example, algae contaminate our drinking water. The general name for this process is eutrophication.
- Nitrate runoff in drinking water can result in toxicity when nitrate is converted to nitrite.
- The Green Revolution is the global effort to achieve the world’s food problems (i.e. hunger and malnutrition) by giving local farmers technology developed by wealthy donor nations and international research institutions. It was an effort driven largely by countries and while it seemed like a good idea when it first started, the mechanics of the process have come under a lot of criticism for increasing the dependency of farmers on the state or donor institutions. Companies like Monsanto have become widely hated for doing things like selling seeds that only last one breeding cycle, which means that farmers have to buy new seeds from the company every year. These companies also have a great deal of money and legal power at their disposal to make “opting out” of their schemes difficult. These companies have also caused social problems via land-grabbing and displacing local people, in an effort to build huge industrial farms. Industrial farms also decrease the quality of the water and soil where the plants grow and increase the incidence of pests. This in turn leads to these companies promoting genetically-modified crops which are supposed to overcome these issues. The trade-off is a decrease in nutritional value and flavor, and, in the longer term, further deterioration of the environment. The continued success of these companies causes further social and environmental problems.
- The Pork Industry in China
- World food clock
- Why is palm oil so bad, and what can I do? – an article by EcoWatch and another by Salon
- Why Starbucks doesn’t recycle its paper cups.