Thursday, November 17, 2011

Farmers: Don't Steal Our $#!*

I want to take exception to one statement in that same Nov. 7 editorial "Chesapeake Bay: Hope and hurdles." The Baltimore Sun believes chicken companies should own the manure. Most chicken growers disagree with that because the manure, a locally produced organic fertilizer, has value to chicken growers who are selling it for up to $25 per ton. It is an important part of a farm's income. Additionally, crop farmers who use chicken manure as an organic fertilizer, including many chicken growers, are getting $92 worth of nutrients per ton. So it saves them money when they apply it to their land using state reviewed, state sanctioned nutrient management plans. Also, it increases the organic material in the soil and improves the soil's water holding capacity. Although some people call it a waste product, nothing could be further from the truth.
 Maybe the Baltimore Sun could volunteer to pay the chicken farmers $30 a ton for the chicken $#!*.  It's easy to advocate taking away someone else's money.

Actually, it might be a good idea.  According to a recent article in Scientific American, world supplies of phosphorus, one of the nutrients necessary for plant growth, and one of the nutrients of concern in chicken $#!*, may run out in the next 100 years:
In the 20th century the three nutrients enabled agriculture to increase its productivity and the world’s population to grow more than sixfold. But what is their source? We obtain nitrogen from the air, but we must mine phosphorus and potassium. The world has enough potassium to last several centuries. But phosphorus is a different story. Readily available global supplies may start running out by the end of this century. By then our population may have reached a peak that some say is beyond what the planet can sustainably feed.
Actually, we obtain nitrogen from the air and from fossil fuel.  Nitrogen is, of course present in the air, but in a form unusable by plants. To make it available to plants it must be converted to ammonia (NH3).  This is mostly done using natural gas (methane) as both the energy source and the source of the hydrogen.  Not a big deal, we have ample supplies of natural gas for centuries worth of fertilizer production, but as long as you're discussing when things are running out, energy should be considered as well.

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