Why Organic?

So the big question is: Why use organic fertilizer instead of chemical fertilizer, aren’t they basically the same thing?

Chemical Fertilizer

Chemical fertilizers grow plants but do nothing to help sustain the life of the soil. They are often made from non-renewable sources and some even contain fossil fuels. Chemical fertilizers do not replace many of the trace elements that are gradually depleted by repeated crop planting. This results in long term damage to the soil that can only be repaired with organic matter.

Chemical Nitrogen

Chemical nitrogen stimulates the growth of existing microorganisms, which then use up the available organic matter that is in the soil. The result is a fertility decrease of the soil, and when this process is repeated over time the organic matter slowly dissipates leaving sterile soil that cannot produce a good crop.

Even packaged labels saying that they are “complete” do not include the decaying trace elements necessary to improve soil structure. Repeated application of chemical fertilizers can even damage the soil by changing the soil PH, upsetting beneficial microbial ecosystems, and increasing pests.

Over-Fertilization

Another problem with chemical fertilizers is the super-concentrated packaging of nutrients. This is for the purpose of making nutrients readily available to the plant, but it substantially increases the danger of accidently over-fertilizing. Over-fertilization simply put, is when there are more nutrients available than the plant can uptake. This often causes what many people call “burning” of the plant.

Plants are designed to receive nutrients (especially nitrogen) slowly through the soil. Too much of a good thing can actually kill the plant (or turf) that you are working so diligently to grow and keep looking good.

The largest problem with over-fertilization is that the unused nutrients are washed out of the soil the next time it rains and end up downstream in rivers and lakes and eventually the ocean.

A study published by the “National Academy of Sciences” on October 23, 2013 proved that a large percentage of nitrogen from chemical fertilizer either remains in the soil or leaches away into waterways. Using isotope tracers, scientists followed the fate of nitrogen-based synthetic fertilizers applied to test fields planted in France with wheat and sugar beets. The scientists applied one typical application of chemical fertilizer to the fields in 1982 and spent the next 30 years testing the soil, the plants, and the water runoff to see where the nitrogen ended up. The conclusion: only 61% – 65% of the nitrogen actually made it to the plants. Another 12% – 15% of the nitrogen is still in the ground 30 years later, and the other 8% – 12% ended up washing away into the water system.

The team estimated that it would take another 50 years for the rest of the nitrogen to be absorbed by the plants or wash away into the water system. That is 80 years of pollution from one chemical fertilizer application.

Global Effects

There are an estimated 400 “dead zones” in the river deltas of the World’s oceans due to nitrogen that has leached into those rivers from farm land. Just at the Mississippi river delta there is a “dead zone” the size of New Jersey where no aquatic animals can survive. The nutrients in chemical fertilizers are designed to be water soluble for quick uptake by the plants, but when a plant or lawn cannot absorb the water-dissolved nutrients fast enough, the nutrients simply wash away causing undesirable chemicals to be washed into the waterways.

Repeated application may also result in a buildup of toxic chemicals such as salts (nitrates), arsenic, cadmium, and uranium in the soil. These toxic chemicals can also eventually leach their way into waterways, ponds, and storm drains. Leaching is the process described above when water soluble substances (chemicals specifically) are washed out of the soil.

Between the years 1960 and 2005, annual use of chemical nitrogen fertilizer in U.S. agriculture increased 455 percent. Natural gas is the primary fuel used to produce anhydrous ammonia (chemical nitrogen), accounting for 70% to 90% of its production cost. Approximately 33 million BTU’s of natural gas are needed to produce 1 ton of ammonia.

Global demand for agricultural nitrogen fertilizer is currently around 100 million metric tons. North America consumes around 13 percent of that total. Fertilizer production is the single largest source of nitrogen. In 1995 American farmers used 23 billion pounds of nitrogen fertilizer, primarily for production of corn and wheat (Terry, et al. 1996). This represents a 25-fold increase in total annual nitrogen fertilizer use in the fifty year period between 1945 and 1994.

Nitrogen from fertilizer is considered to be the most important preventable source of nitrate contamination of water supplies (Hallberg 1986a, Bouchard 1992, NAS 1993, Puckett 1994, Keeney 1986, Keeney 1989). Agricultural areas have the highest rates of nitrate contaminated water. As the largest importer of nitrogen in the world, most of the nitrogen imported into the United States is in the form of anhydrous ammonia and urea. Eighty million tons of fertilizers are spread onto fields in the form of fertilizer each year while only 17 million tons make it into the food. The rest goes missing. Chemical nitrogen is made to be water soluble and thus very devastating to the health of waterways when over applied.

Organic Fertilizer

Contrastingly, organic fertilizers build the soil over long periods of time and offer quality without sacrificing the environment. There are virtually no side effects (when applied correctly) like unwanted chemicals being leached into our waterways or damaging chemicals left behind in the soil which can cause soil infertility or damage to the plants.

Organic fertilizer has been the proven means by which civilizations throughout all of history have sustained a healthy top soil and crop production without destroying the environment. The manufacturing of organic fertilizer is a natural process that does not require the burning of tons and tons of fossil fuels in large factories.

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