Forget Oil, Worry About Phosphorus
[imgbelt img=100421_dollarphosphorusresized.jpg]The world’s agriculture depends on a mineral that is declining in production and is controlled by a cartel of companies. Troubling, ain’t it?
Modern farming methods depend increasingly on fossil fuels and major plant nutrients: nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.
We know that peak oil is fast approaching, if it has not already arrived. This isn’t the only shortage that should concern us. We are seeing the same coming shortages in nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium.
Peak phosphorus is occurring along with peak oil. The earth’s supply of these critical resources is dwindling rapidly.
A New York Times writer recently said that phosphorus availability is “the gravest natural resource shortage you’ve never heard of.” The fact is, corporate and political control of essential plant nutrients may be the gravest long run competition issue you’ve never heard of.
And control of these resources may also be the greatest strategic issue facing the United States that you never heard of.
The country has an ambitious plan to replace imported oil with biofuels produced from plant matter. But dwindling U.S. reserves of the nutrients needed to produce biofuel feedstocks and political instability in countries where most phosphate rock reserves are held suggest that this plan may be replacing energy dependence with phosphorus dependence.
This is an issue for the world. The potential severity of phosphorus shortage has led Swedish researchers to proclaim that the global economy could flip from one that revolves around ownership of oil reserves to one based on who owns — and controls — phosphorus reserves.
The change could happen within ten to 20 years.
Where do we get our fertilizer?
The United States is increasingly dependent on other countries for critical plant nutrients. Imports account for 57% of nitrogen and 86% of potassium fertilizers used in the U.S.
At present, our phosphorus fertilizer needs are met from domestically mined rock phosphate. About one-half of this country’s production of phosphorus is exported, primarily to China, Australia, Canada, Brazil, and Mexico.[imgcontainer left] [img:critical_conversation_0clip_image006.jpg] Morocco is the Saudi Arabia of phosphorus.
Nitrogen is made from natural gas. So nitrogen imports come from Trinidad, Tobago, Canada and Russia because these countries have low natural gas prices. Potassium comes from Canada and Russia.
Of these natural resources, phosphorus is the most critical to the world’s food security. Phosphorus is necessary for all living matter — plants, animals, humans, bacteria, and all other kinds of critters. Humans get phosphorus from plant and animal food products.
From a practical standpoint, phosphorus is neither created nor destroyed, but it does change form and location. Phosphorus removed from fields in plant material must eventually be replaced to avoid food and plant biomass yield decreases.
Modern agriculture is very wasteful of phosphorus. It is flushed down toilets and lost from farm fields through erosion and runoff.
Factory farming has concentrated livestock and poultry production, thereby concentrating waste production in the same areas. Livestock and poultry waste contains nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium and is a valuable fertilizer.[img:phosphoruschartresized.jpg] [source]Foreign PolicyAgriculture now depends on phosphorus as a plant nutrient, a relatively recent phenomenon.