Fertilizer: When Too Much Is Too Much
In the quest for a bountiful harvest, many farmers and gardeners don’t worry about the amount of fertilizer and pesticides they spray onto their crops. However, it’s about time they paused to think about where all of those chemicals are actually going.
It has only been a couple of generations since the full-scale takeover of industrial agriculture. With the promise of abundance and the hope of feeding the world, people and farmers the world overbought into synthetic fertilizers and the companies they put their trust into.
What time is showing, however, is that this hope for a new chemical reality isn’t necessarily the Eden we once thought, or were convinced to think, it would be.
Genetically modified organisms (GMOs)
The balance of Mother Nature is a fragile one. Concentrated nutrient blends, heavy salt fertilizers and genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are giving Mother Nature a run for her money.
Concentrated blends demand high levels of mining and laboratory synthesizing. They also break down and kill the beneficial life that exists in the soil, and deem the earth that they are applied to as an empty, even toxic, growing medium. Heavy salt fertilizers poison the land that they promised hope to.
GMOs challenge the ecosystem to exist in a reality that never existed before. (Evolutionary processes take time so that the ecosystems both in our bodies and in the land have time to adapt. GMOs have changed the playing field literally over night, and thus the life on this planet does not know what to do with them, as they are an unrecognized growth that is over taking the current homeostasis. In the body this is known as cancer.)
Lack of foresight and the trust in life to be able to carry us through has left the future of the world and our bodies in the hands of chemical scientists and multinational corporations. With their bottom line being the profit of the investor, life as we know it has been sold out.
The other day I was attending an aquaponics conference in Denver, Co. As I was walking to the conference I passed a newsstand and saw the USA Today on the top rack. What caught my attention was a picture of a farmer holding up a dead stalk of corn and a bold headline that read “DROUGHT.”
Desertification often results from over farming an area until it has been drained of resources, topsoil and biology within the soil. Without plants, there is nothing to attract beneficial bugs and animals or rainwater, which eventually results in drought.
Other potentials for this phenomenon are farming without the use of crop rotation and the use of chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides. Soil biology, which is the backbone of a good soil make up, exists in a delicate dance between the natural process of Mother Nature and the intensive demands of large- and small-scale agribusiness.
A friend of mine just recently opened a nursery in what used to be a parking lot. Despite fighting the harsh elements of asphalt extremes, trees, flowering bushes and water fountains attracted birds, butterflies and people. We can see from these two examples how quickly life can disappear and even reappear.
It is this speed of change that gives me concern. After just a few decades of intensive farming in the northern California hills, we are starting to see dramatic effects to the ecosystem from nutrient and pesticide runoff.
The Results of Runoff
Algal growth blooms explode in the water surrounding these counties due to the high levels of nutrients running off the plants. Soil biology is being compromised and even killed off, as any N-P-K rating over 10 will kill this fragile subterranean ecological web.
Rivers like the Eel and the Yuba are also being inundated with high-level N-P-K fertilizers that were applied to gardens with the hope of an abundant harvest, but ran off into the groundwater. Unregulated pesticides are sprayed in hopes of killing those pesky spider mites that suck the life from plants that are so carefully tended.
People that would never consume anything toxic are willingly applying gallons of toxic chemicals in concern of losing their crop. Why would people do this? I believe one of the reasons is that the products are available in their local stores and so there is potentially a misled belief that anything available in the local shop must be alright to use. The effects on the ecosystem from an agricultural industry still young are drastic and escalating at a rapid pace.
What is the solution? I believe it is to return to natural, plant-based and biologically alive plant foods. I hesitate to even use the word organic as its definition has been so tainted over the years that it now holds little, if even any, integrity due to the current national standards of USDA certification.
Teas comprised of herbs, compost, guanos and castings are just some of the alternatives to synthetics. Many companies provide a balanced nutrient blend that is in the acceptable ranges of N-P-K, but will not create the natural hazards inevitable with synthetics.
The argument that synthetics are acceptable because they are derived from natural resources is a conversation best talked about while driving around a traffic circle—simply because it goes no where. The fact is that these concentrates are too strong for the groundwater and they are poisoning our lands.
Think beyond the end of your harvest. If you don’t have kids and aren’t concerned about the future generations, think about your local swimming hole being unsafe to swim in and your local springs being unsafe to drink from.
All farmers and gardeners must take it upon themselves to be educated as to what they are applying to their plants and where that runoff will eventually wind up.
Just because a plastic bottle has a cool picture on it does not make it safe to apply to your farm or pour down your drain.
Cool-colored nutrients might not be any healthier for the Earth as brightly colored soda pop is for your local kindergarteners.
So, do everything you can to cut short this chemical-laden era of agriculture so we can return to something healthier.
Written by Jonathan Valdman | Founder
Jonathan Valdman is an entrepreneur, consultant, and one of the industry’s most recognizable experts on permaculture, sustainability, and Best Management Practices. He has been farming organically for more than 20 years, and in 2006 founded Forever Flowering Greenhouses®, a commercial-grade greenhouse company that specializes in light deprivation growing techniques.