Nutrition Security Institute

Research to restore the fertility of earth`s soils


Source: Nutrition Security Institute

In keynote addresses at the FAO Workshop on Sustainable Agriculture in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on April 28 and April 29, 2009, soil fertility experts from the Nutrition Security Institute, (NSI) a non-profit organization located in Bellevue, Washington, presented advances and understandings in biotic soil fertility as a proven solution to the serious problems facing global agriculture. Their dual keynote presentations urged the use of biotic fertility to provide sustainable agriculture over the entire range of agriculture from subsistence growers to the largest commercial farm operations.

Jeff Anderson, a biological growing expert and contributor to NSI, presented a paper he authored with Dr. Mike Amaranthus. He warned of an approaching crisis in the global food supply. Current and past global food supply is dependent upon topsoil, the most valuable part of Earth's arable soils. Destruction of over 50 percent of the Earth's arable topsoils has been accelerated by over-application of simple NPK formulation fertilizers based on synthetic inorganic nitrogen. The destruction from these fertilizers is compounded by their required co-components, pesticides and fungicides, which have increased toxicity levels in foods worldwide. Soil experts such as Dr. Jerry Hatfield of the USDA Tilth Laboratory in Ames, Iowa have estimated the total loss of worldwide topsoil carbon to exceed 10 million gigatons of soil carbon components. This amount of carbon biomass is equal to a loss of living and stored organic nutrients that is over seven times the weight of the entire living human and whale populations of Earth. This represents a stunning loss of vital life forms critical to human existence.

Man has unwittingly destroyed over 50 percent of the very life force which both drives and enables productive, healthy agriculture while at the same time interjecting toxic chemicals into the food supply. Simple NPK formulation, synthetic nitrogen fertilizers are a key component of the so-called 'Green Revolution' introduced after WWII. The 'Green Revolution' is an agriculture fertility system which has largely replaced the traditional organic soil fertility systems which had been developed over a period of thousands of years prior to the widespread availability of the synthetic nitrogen fertilizers. The 'Green Revolution' is a part of agriculture technology advancement that has greatly increased food yields worldwide, yet it also represents a fertility system which many agronomists now agree systematically destroys topsoil. There is also a growing understanding of the possible contribution these fertilizers make to global warming. 'Green Revolution' fertilizers, produced in amounts that may exceed 120 million tons a year by a number of multinational corporations, release hundreds of millions of tons of greenhouse gases a year due to the labile nature of synthetic nitrogen components. The environmental impact of these fertilizers, therefore, and the fact that they are manufactured from costly hydrocarbons, renders them an unsustainable program in even the largest commercial agriculture applications. The end result from the continued use of these fertilizers will likely be an actual reduction in the total global agriculture food production and an increase in the use of pesticides and fungicides.

Mr. Anderson pointed out that the acceleration of the loss of soil carbon components began immediately after the introduction of synthetic nitrogen compound fertilizers in the 1950s. Since that time, loss has accelerated to the point where global soil experts estimate topsoil loss to be greater than 1 percent per year. He presented his understanding that continued use of simple formulation synthetic nitrogen fertilizers will have a serious negative impact on global agriculture and nutrition security.

Citing FAO SOFI Report 2007, Mr. Anderson presented the grim statistics of global nutrition. According to the World Health Organization, over 25,000 human beings die each day from starvation. Almost a billion people are severely undernourished, and two billion suffer from micronutrient malnutrition or 'hidden hunger'. Simple NPK fertilizers are unable to effectively deliver micronutrients in the chelated organic form necessary for full utilization of elemental minerals by plants, thus leaving the plants unable to deliver these same, vital nutrients to the humans consuming them.

In addition to the problems of nutrition, Mr. Anderson pointed out the problems with increases in greenhouse gases as a result of the use of 'Green Revolution' fertilizers. Mr. Anderson projected a loss of 367 million pounds of CO2 from a 1,000 acre Iowa corn field that has experienced a decline from 10 percent carbon content to 5 percent carbon content. The reality of this loss is easily illustrated by the fact that over 50 percent of formerly rich and productive Iowa farm land now has such low carbon levels that it is unable to support commercial agriculture. Together, these understandings vividly underscore the broad destructive nature of 'Green Revolution' fertilizers. Not only have they destroyed the economic value of productive farmland, they have been instrumental in increasing the level of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere.

Widespread commercial use of NPK fertilizers is compounded and accelerated by a recently renewed push by global NGOs to increase their use in subsistence farming applications and in critically endangered topsoil areas such as Sub-Saharan Africa. The history of these programs introduced into subsistence agriculture has been poor, as most recipients cannot sustain the use of expensive hydrocarbon based fertilizers once direct aid is withdrawn. The 'Green Revolution' is a major agenda of the Rockefeller Foundation and has now been adopted by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation which has funded $280 million to finance a new 'Green Revolution' in Africa in The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa.

The FAO Workshop began with a keynote presentation by Mr. John B. Marler, Chairman of the Nutrition Security Institute, who stated 'After 160 years of understanding soil fertility from a chemical point of view, we now understand that the soil is actually a biological medium that demands biological solutions.' He presented a paper discussing soil technologies based on biological understandings that he believes will, in the future, completely replace the 'Green Revolution' fertilizer systems.

The new fertility systems are based on waste recycling of nitrogen and other elemental minerals contained in manure from confined animal feeding operations such as dairies and poultry houses. The new biotic fertilizers accelerate natural fertility in topsoil by facilitating and driving protein synthesis in the population of soil microorganisms, such as cyanobacteria, in locations where the fertilizer is applied. Biotic fertilizers also naturally increase soil carbon components. This benefit reduces erosion, increases water holding capacity in the soil, makes crops more drought resistant and resistant to extremes of temperature. And, directly contrary to the 'Green Revolution' fertilizers which drive the loss of soil carbon, biotic fertilizers build up soil carbon and can sequester up to 3,670 pounds per acre of carbon dioxide over the period of a year.

Mr. Marler's presentation heralded biotic fertilizers as a significant advancement in agriculture. Biotic fertilizers have entered the mainstream of United States agriculture by employment and distribution by some of the United States' largest agronomic corporations. They have been successfully proven in trials and commercial applications on over 75,000 crop acres in several countries including the U.S., Canada, Mexico, U.K., Israel, and Saudi Arabia. Work with nitrogen recycling, biotic fertilizers started in 2000 in Washington State prior to the beginning of the National Organic Program by the USDA. Since that time, biotic fertilizers have been extensively employed in the organic and conventional industries. They are being increasingly adopted for use due to the fact that they are able to provide for infinite soil sustainability in arable soils. A recent trial in Al-Jouf, Saudi Arabia was designed without the use of soil analysis testing as biotic fertilizers are completely nutrient balanced with all the elemental minerals needed to grow any crop. Applied at the rate of 1 ton per acre, the biotic fertilizers outperformed the NPK fertilizer formulations with 33 percent better growth results and a 28 percent increase in branch formation in the 38,000 peach and plum trees in the trial. Such results are not unusual as biotic fertility often outperforms 'Green Revolution' NPK fertilizers at the same or lower cost to a grower.

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