Fertilizer has increasingly fallen out of favor in recent years, but what are the differences between chemical and organic fertilizer? Why do we actually use fertilizer, and what are the consequences? All these questions and more will be discussed in the following article.
A short history of agriculture
People have been practising agriculture for about 12,000 years. Without them, life as we know it would not be possible. It is the cornerstone of civilization, and the change from hunter-gatherer to sedentary life.
But with it also came the need for methods to optimize the yield, to feed the ever growing population. Fertilizer plays a vital role in this. It is not possible to farm the land as often and to achieve such high yields as is the case today without using fertilizers.
Why is chemical fertilizer used at all?
Fertilizer comes in many forms, some more harmful than others. Basically, fertilizer adds nutrients to the plant that help it grow and ensure that more can be harvested. In the past, when chemistry was the work of alchemists, only organic fertilizers were used. This fertilizer, made up of compost and/or other plant components, was therefore purely organic.
However, the fertilizers that are in circulation today and are most commonly found in industrial agriculture are mostly chemical. They are produced industrially in huge factories with other chemicals.
They are available in various forms, from solid granules to powder and liquid fertilizers. The most commonly used substances are: nitrogen, phosphates, potassium.
These substances are vital for the plants and their growth. Normally, all these substances are naturally present in healthy soil to a greater or lesser extent, and it is not necessary to add them artificially.
However, since in agriculture we are talking about large quantities of plants and areas that are difficult to generate in a natural and sustainable way, the substances are artificially added to the fields.
What problems are caused by chemical fertilizers?
A keyword that summarizes the problem of fertilizer is “over-fertilization”. As the word implies, the quantity of fertilizer used is a problem. Only a fraction of the chemical fertilizer actually reaches the plants and is absorbed through the roots. The rest seeps into the soil and makes its way into the groundwater and other bodies of water.
The soil quality suffers from the chemical fertilizer
The soil fauna dies due to the chemical fertilizer. The high concentration of fertilizer leads to “fertilizer burns” and the salts have a toxic effect on the microorganisms. The variety of microbes, fungi and insects is drastically reduced, thus missing an essential part of the food chain, which is responsible for keeping the soil naturally rich in nutrients.
Because the natural fauna, which normally automatically ensures that the soil contains nutrients, is killed by the chemical substances, the use of chemical fertilizers promotes dependency on these fertilizers. The only way to cultivate the soil is to continue using chemical fertilizers, or to revitalize the soil fauna over a long period of time.
The water bodies as sufferers of chemistry
As already indicated chemical fertilizer makes its way into the groundwater and other waters and disturbs the balance there. This not only endangers our drinking water, but also destroys the balance of many habitats.
A prominent example of the consequences of over-fertilization is the extinction of species in rivers and lakes, and the unnaturally rapid growth of plants in these waters, which makes it impossible for animals to survive, because the plants use up all the oxygen.
The advantages of organic fertilizers with algae
Because the organic fertilizer takes a longer time to decompose, and does not simply flood the soil, it is less likely to reach water bodies and other places where it should not be. In addition, the organic material, when decomposed, provides nutrients for the entire soil fauna.
The organic material, such as algae, is then decomposed by the many organisms in the soil and naturally fed into the soil food chain.
Through decomposition, nutrients are absorbed by insects, microbes and/or fungi and carried further and further into the soil. After their death and subsequent decomposition, these nutrients are released again and can be absorbed by the roots of the plants.
It is therefore a cycle that not only benefits the plant itself, but also supports the environment and its food chains as a whole.
Why should we prefer organic fertilizer?
If we want a future in which over-fertilization, and its consequences for the environment, do not get worse, then we have to rethink.
Organic farming also offers interesting economic incentives, as organic products achieve higher prices through their quality and sustainability. The market for organic products is constantly growing, and the population is more and more aware of the issues.
We have to realize that organic fertilizers and organic farming are an indispensable means to maintain our standard of living as far as possible and still live ethically and sustainably. It should be important for us to leave soil to future generations, which can produce food for them without forcing them to use chemical additives.
It can also be assumed that the legislation for the use of fertilizer will become increasingly restrictive in the coming years and decades. The consequences for the environment are clear, and with clear environmental goals for the future from the EU countries and other countries, it is worthwhile to change to organic fertilization methods early.
What do algae offer as a component of organic fertilizer?
Algae contain, among other things, the important nutrients listed above, which are vital for plants. Among them are phosphates and nitrogen, but also other trace elements such as magnesium. This is then reflected in the nutritional value of the yields obtained from the fields, which are supported by organic algae fertilizer.
Algae such as Ascophyllum nodosum, Ulva lactuca, Laminaria digitata and many more offer the opportunity to actively participate in the change towards organic fertilizers. We are happy to support you and your company in advising your company on the conversion to organic fertilizers.
- Teaming with Microbes: The Organic Gardener’s Guide to the Soil Food Web, Jeff Lowenfels & Wayne Lewis