Farmers and gardeners do not need to use any fertilizers whatsoever. And the trends of fertilizer use in America is reflecting a growing understanding of this.
Background: Basic Soil Science
Within the soil lives microorganisms that are glad to produce sufficient quantities of nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus.
The ability of microorganisms to mineralize nitrogen from our atmosphere is by now quite famous, but it is less widely known that phosphorus and potassium are just as easily produced in the soil itself.
Doctors Milo Harpstead, Thomas Sauer and William Bennett in their Soil Science Simplified (1980, 1988 and 1997) describe how, by producing carbonic acid, lactic acid, nitric acid, sulfuric acid and other weak acids, these microorganisms actively dissolve the sand, silt and clay in a soil, freeing macro and micronutrients.
As an added bonus, microorganisms create humus, an organic soil. Humus, being somewhat negatively charged, binds with Calcium, potassium and other vital nutrients until plants (and microorganisms) are ready to eat them.
In this way, Humus also interacts to protect against acid rains and other industrial pollutants by either neutralizing them or buffering plant roots.
Nature Always Provides What is Needed When and Where Needed
It makes sense that nature would provide a renewable source of those nutrients that plants require!
While the natural quantities of plant-food are small for macro and micronutrients, with agriculture, the natural processes that feed plants can be encouraged.
The Bottom Line: 457,988,000,000 pounds
The United States consumed in 2007 (according to the USDA ERS)* more than 457,988,000,000 pounds of added macronutrients (N,P,K).
This only begins to reflect the total amount of micronutrient fertilizers consumed.
1,527 Pounds of Fertilizer is a Great Stocking Stuffer
That’s a big number. To put it in other terms, with just over 300 million people in America, that’s enough to give every man, woman and child 1,527 pounds of fertilizer. Who needs stocking stuffers?
Three Square Meals of 1.4 Pounds of Fertilizer
For that matter, who needs lunch? 1,527 pounds of fertilizer, if used entirely for food (which it is not, some is used for fibers like cotton, and some for greener residential lawns) would provide every American with 3 square meals of 1.4 pounds of fertilizer.
Does that leave room for the chicken in every pot when the average American only eats 4.7 pounds of food per day?
Here’s some stats
Average weight of a male grizzly bear: 550lbs (greatbear.org).
Approximate weight of quarter horse: 1,100 “
Weight of Manuel Uribe, heaviest man in the world: 1,320 “ (Guinness World Records)
è Per capita use of fertilizers in America: 1,527 “
Curb weight of a Crossblade smart car 1,600 “
Pounds of food eaten annually by an average American 1,717 “ (USDA)
An Expensive Waste
You know that this is worth a lot of money to farmers, or that it presents an environmental hazard.
The bottom line? Not only is it expensive and dangerous to use fertilizers, it’s also entirely unnecessary if steps are taken to cultivate the microorganisms in the soil.
* USDAERS, Fertilizer Consumption and Use—By Year Table 1—U.S. consumption of nitrogen, phosphate, and potash, 1960-2007.