The Ergosphere
Wednesday, November 16, 2005
 

Good Gulf

Exploding costs for nitrogen fertilizer are making it increasingly difficult to farm; I've read of ammonia prices as high as $500/ton for next year.  Some of this is bound to be ameliorated when coal-fuelled domestic nitrogen plants come on line (previous mention), but in the mean time farmers are going to be using nitrates as sparingly as they can.

This should be good for the Gulf of Mexico.  Excess nitrogen from Midwest farms has long wound up running down the Mississippi; it has increased biological oxygen demand where the water loses its aeration and created a dead zone on the bottom of the Gulf.  When farmers cut back to just the nitrogen their crops are guaranteed to use, there will be a much smaller excess.  The eutrophication of the Gulf will have a brief pause.

This is a golden opportunity for research.  Just as the grounding of airliners after 9/11 provided data on the effect of contrails and the 8/14/03 blackout did the same for air pollution from powerplants, this cutback in nitrate use will show just what influence it has on the life on the continental shelf.  With luck, we'll be able to use it to modify farming practices so that they lose much less nitrogen and become ocean-friendly.

 
Comments:
The US farm system has been characterized by my dear University of Oregon Physics professor, Greg Bothun, as 'a grand nitrogen transfer system whereby all available nitrogen is mined from various sources and then deposited (via circuitous routes) into the Gulf of Mexico'. It is a brief but sadly all to accurate description of our use of nitrates for farming.
 
The solution is nature's way: green manure, or cover cropping. As an organic grower I've learned that a year's growth of legumes can provide the nitrogen needed for a crop of corn. It requires a year of legume growth without removing a crop. Industrial farming expects to harvest a crop every year. This is contrary to nature, which is generally in the habit of returning biomass to the soil in which it was grown.

My first visit here.Good work. (Linked from Bouphonia)
 
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