Fertiliser and Peak Food

January 13, 2007 · Filed Under Threats to Food Supply · Comment 

In the last 5 months the price of nitrogen fertiliser has gone from £145/tonne to £230/tonne with similar increases for phosphate and potash. This is partly due to increased demand in response to higher grain prices as a slightly larger area is planted and the need to optimise yields is greater. Also production of some fertilisers especially phosphate cannot easily be increased.

Nitrogen fertiliser production is dependent on fossil fuels, mainly natural gas which is of course finite and must at some time become less available. In western Europe fertiliser plants using north sea gas are closing  down, and we are slowly becoming dependent on nitrogen that is made using Russian natural gas, and more fertiliser is being imported from eastern Europe.  The present price increases should remind us that we have largely abandoned the age old practices of maintaining soil fertility by recycling nutrients back to the soil through the application of animal and human waste, and also we now tend to grow less leguminous crops which fix nitrogen from the air.

In general, grain farmers in the west will still be able to afford fertiliser as they are now getting better prices for grain, but it will be difficult for grassland farmers.

The other losers are the world’s poorer countries who need to import oil, fertiliser and some food. All these are now much more expensive and they may have no alternative but to import less, leading to even more hungry people.

One Response

  1. New Organics Information » Fertiliser and Peak Food Says:

    Sid Marris | December 10, 2007

    CLIMATE change negotiators in Bali should be putting more effort into how governments will deal with the effects of global warming on food production and water supplies.

    Farmer and former Liberal parliamentary secretary Bill Heffernan says the changes that science had already predicted for the atmosphere required an immediate focus on how people will survive.

    He said that it was unfortunate that the focus on carbon emissions distracted from the arguably more difficult problems of water and food management.

    While much money was spent modelling energy needs there was not enough modelling of food production.

    He said if the projections that one-third of arable land and half of all water supplies were under threat were borne out it would place enormous pressure on all governments.

    “I am not sure what the answers are but in the next 50 years one billion people will be short of food,” he said.

    “This is a survival issue and no-one is talking about it.”

    An Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resources Economics released on Friday said that using existing technologies, climate change would shave 2.3 per cent off growth by 2030 and as much as 5 per cent lower than might be otherwise expected by 2050.

    Beef production would be 20 per cent lower, dairy production 18 per cent and wheat production 13 per cent.

    Senator Heffernan said he agreed with the Australian Federal Police Commissioner Mick Keelty that climate change would be the greatest threat to national sovereignty over the coming century.

    He said Australia was in a “fantastic position” to deal with change and was heartened that Rudd Labor was prepared to take seriously his work under the former government on boosting agriculture in northern Australia