How Artificial Fertilizer is Ruining Future Harvests

Artificial fertilizers are becoming the norm when farming, how soon do we begin to lose quality crops and ruin our soil?

| July/August 1970

Despite highest crop yields per acre in history, American agriculture is in a state of acute crisis. Farmers have been treating the soil the way speed freaks treat their bodies — with similar results.

The Meth that is used down on the farm is artificial fertilizer, an "upper" that stimulates rapid plant growth without contributing anything to soil health. In the short run, as with speed freaks, crops grow at a frantic pace. But in the long run, the use of these artificial and inorganic chemical fertilizers destroys the soil and saturates the ground with chemicals that do not break down or decompose into the earth.

Nitrogen in the soil is vital to plant growth, but when huge doses of this element are shot into the earth as an ingredient in artificial fertilizer, the results are often disastrous. The crops absorb some of the nitrogen, but much of it seeps through the soil into the ground water to pollute rivers, lakes and drinking water.

According to Dr. Barry Commoner, director of the Center for the Study of Biology Systems at Washington University in St. Louis, excess nitrogen in drinking water can cause a serious infant disease, methemoglobinemia. A number of public wells in California have been closed by health officials due to high nitrate content in the water. Says Dr. Commoner: "The agricultural wealth of California's Central Valley has been gained at a cost that does not appear on the farmer's balance sheets — the general pollution of the state's huge underground water reserves with nitrate."

Nitrate run-off in the ground water also encourages the growth of algae, which removes oxygen from water. These "algae-blooms" turn lakes and rivers into cesspools which, lacking oxygen, are unable to sustain aquatic life. This is happening in such Corn Belt states as Illinois where, according to Dr. Commoner, "Every major river is overburdened with fertilizer drainage."

Dependence on artificial, inorganic fertilizers has also diminished the mineral content of the soil. Consequently, the food we eat is lacking in nutritional value — at least in comparison with the farm produce of yesteryear when good crops were dependent on healthy soil and farmers put back into the soil what the year's crop took out. (Refining and processing food also robs it of nutritional value; by the time we get to eat it, losses may be as high as 50%.)

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