Monday, September 20, 2010

U.S. agriculture is facing serious phosphorus dependence

Modern farming methods depend more and more on fossil fuels, and while oil has garnered much of the focus, another fossil fuel may be nearing a dangerous shortage: phosphorus. "We know peak oil is fast approaching, if it has not already arrived. This isn't the only shortage that should concern us," C. Robert Taylor, professor of agricultural economics at Auburn University, writes for the Daily Yonder. "Peak phosphorus is occurring along with peak oil. The earth's supply of these critical resources is dwindling rapidly." Control of these resources may be among the most important issues facing U.S. agriculture, Taylor writes.

"A New York Times writer recently said that phosphorus availability is 'the gravest natural resource shortage you’ve never heard of,'" Taylor writes. "The fact is, corporate and political control of essential plant nutrients may be the gravest long run competition issue you’ve never heard of." At present consumption rates the U.S. phosphorus reserve will be exhausted within 10 to 15 years, Taylor reports. Modern agriculture worsens the problem with wasteful phosphorus usage. Phosphorus removed from fields during harvests must eventually be replaced to avoid food and plant biomass yield decreases, Taylor writes.

"Between the world wars, 90 percent of phosphate rock exports were controlled by cartels. And cartels still dominate fertilizer reserves and trade," Taylor writes. Export taxes in China have essentially removed the country from the world phosphorus market, leaving the U.S. and Morocco as the major suppliers. "Trade in phosphorus is dominated by three corporations: Mosaic (Cargill), Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan, and OCP," Taylor writes. The companies exhibit even more political control as Cargill and Potash form an expert cartel called PhosChem.

The U.S. has developed an ambitious plan to reduce dependence on foreign oil through domestic plant-based biofuels, but Taylor worries that plan shifts oil dependence to phosphorus. "The countries of the world must begin meaningful discussion about what kind of food production system and food economy are best for humanity," Taylor concludes. "Those with narrow political interests or the selfish few corporate executives and their puppets should not prevail in developing a new food system." (Read more)

1 comment:

modern farming methods said...

Informative posts.