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By Dr. Mercola
Environmental pollution is a significant problem. But while most of the focus is placed on polluting industries, toxins like mercury and small particle traffic pollution, a major source of environmental devastation is caused by modern food production. Far from being life sustaining, our modern chemical-dependent farming methods:
- Strip soil of nutrients
- Destroy critical soil microbes
- Contribute to desertification and global climate change, and
- Saturate farmlands with toxic pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers that then migrate into ground water, rivers, lakes and oceans.
For example, many areas of Minnesota, which is prime farmland, now face the problem of having dangerously elevated levels of nitrogen in their drinking water.
The conversion of grasslands and pastures into chemical-driven, industrial crop land has eliminated much of the natural filtering of ground water that such native landscapes typically provide. Health risks of nitrogen include a potential connection to cancer, as well as thyroid and reproductive problems in both humans and livestock.
Looming Fertilizer Shortage Could Spell the End of Modern Agriculture
Modern fertilizer consists of varying amounts of nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K). These three are believed to be essential for plants to grow, (below, I’ll discuss why NPK may not be as necessary as we think.), and are extracted from the soil with each harvest.
This is why farmers spread fertilizer on their fields, to replace the nutrients lost. It’s certainly not the ideal and sustainable way to farm, but it’s thought to be the most efficient for large-scale farms. Strategies like crop rotation and allowing large fields to rest would cut too deep into profits that are based on quantity, opposed to quality.
Unfortunately, the Earth’s soil is now being depleted of nutrients at more than 13 percent the rate it can be replaced. Not only that, but according to some, we may also be facing looming shortages of two critical fertilizer ingredients: phosphorus and potassium.
A 2012 article in Mother Jones1 discussed “peak phosphorus and potassium,” drawing lines of similarity between the diminishing reserves of these natural elements and “peak oil.”
Unlike nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium cannot be synthesized, and our aggressive large-scale farming methods, which deplete soils of nutrients that then must be replaced, are quickly burning through available phosphorus and potassium stores.
According to well-known investor Jeremy Grantham, writing for Nature:
“These two elements cannot be made, cannot be substituted, are necessary to grow all life forms, and are mined and depleted. It’s a scary set of statements. Former Soviet states and Canada have more than 70 percent of the potash. Morocco has 85 percent of all high-grade phosphates. It is the most important quasi-monopoly in economic history.
What happens when these fertilizers run out is a question I can’t get satisfactorily answered and, believe me, I have tried. There seems to be only one conclusion: their use must be drastically reduced in the next 20-40 years or we will begin to starve.”