Chronicles Of Depression 2.0: #075

Shortages Threaten Farmers’ Key Tool: Fertilizer

XUAN CANH, Vietnam — Truong Thi Nha stands just four and a half feet tall. Her three grown children tower over her, just as many young people in this village outside Hanoi dwarf their parents.

The biggest reason the children are so robust: fertilizer.

Ms. Nha, her face weathered beyond its 51 years, said her growth was stunted by a childhood of hunger and malnutrition. Just a few decades ago, crop yields here were far lower and diets much worse.

Then the widespread use of inexpensive chemical fertilizer, coupled with market reforms, helped power an agricultural explosion here that had already occurred in other parts of the world. Yields of rice and corn rose, and diets grew richer.

Now those gains are threatened in many countries by spot shortages and soaring prices for fertilizer, the most essential ingredient of modern agriculture.

Some kinds of fertilizer have nearly tripled in price in the last year, keeping farmers from buying all they need. That is one of many factors contributing to a rise in food prices that, according to the United Nations’ World Food Program, threatens to push tens of millions of poor people into malnutrition.

Emphasis added by me.


The squeeze on the supply of fertilizer has been building for roughly five years. Rising demand for food and biofuels prompted farmers everywhere to plant more crops. As demand grew, the fertilizer mines and factories of the world proved unable to keep up.

Some dealers in the Midwest ran out of fertilizer last fall, and they continue to restrict sales this spring because of a limited supply.

Emphasis added by me.

Five years? Five years?! Why are we only hearing about this now?

Have any of The Big Three Corporate Candidates for President ever mentioned this? Especially that bad joke who’s suddenly been trying to get down with the working man?

Pay attention to this:

Fertilizer is plant food, a combination of nutrients added to soil to help plants grow. The three most important are nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. The latter two have long been available. But nitrogen in a form that plants can absorb is scarce, and the lack of it led to low crop yields for centuries.

That limitation ended in the early 20th century with the invention of a procedure, now primarily fueled by natural gas, that draws chemically inert nitrogen from the air and converts it into a usable form.

As the use of such fertilizer spread, it was accompanied by improved plant varieties and greater mechanization. From 1900 to 2000, worldwide food production jumped by 600 percent. Scientists said that increase was the fundamental reason world population was able to rise to about 6.7 billion today from 1.7 billion in 1900.

Vaclav Smil, a professor at the University of Manitoba, calculates that without nitrogen fertilizer, there would be insufficient food for 40 percent of the world’s population, at least based on today’s diets.

Emphasis added by me.

This should scare the living shit out of you:

These factors translated into rising fertilizer demand. Prices at a terminal in Tampa, Fla., for one fertilizer, diammonium phosphate, jumped to $1,102 a ton from $393 a ton in the last year, according to JPMorgan Securities, which tracks the prices. Urea, a type of granular nitrogen fertilizer, jumped to $505 a ton from $273 a ton in the last year.

Manufacturers are scrambling to increase supply. At least 50 plants to make nitrogen fertilizer are under construction, many in the Middle East where natural gas is abundant, and phosphorous and potassium mines are being expanded. But these projects are expensive and time-consuming, and supplies are expected to remain tight for years.

Emphasis added by me.

In the Middle East?! So we’ll be at their mercy not just for energy — but also for the first crucial step in feeding ourselves?

There’s more in the article, specifically about the environmental hazards posed by nitrogen runoff.

But here’s the killer:

“This is a basic problem, to feed 6.6 billion people,” said Norman Borlaug, an American scientist who was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 for his role in spreading intensive agricultural practices to poor countries. “Without chemical fertilizer, forget it. The game is over.”

Emphasis added by me.

Has anyone in Washington bothered to calculate our national crop yields in the event fertilizer can’t be used at all? How many of us would face absolute starvation?

Is anyone out there who is supposed to be in charge paying attention to the issue of food security?

Previously here (posts about food):

Chronicles Of Depression 2.0: #065
In The Future, Will The Obese Eat? Part Two
Chronicles Of Depression 2.0: #062
Past/Future Signs Of The Times #2
Chronicles Of Depression 2.0: #060
Chronicles Of Depression 2.0: #059
The Food Meme Is Spreading
Chronicles Of Depression 2.0: #054
Chronicles Of Depression 2.0: #053
Chronicles Of Depression 2.0: #052
Chronicles Of Depression 2.0: #046
The China Syndrome
Ten Thousand Clueless Eejits
Atlas Shrugged, Meet Real World
The End Of Food, Period
Chronicles Of Depression 2.0: #042 — food shortages in America
Red Headlines For April 17, 2008
Chronicles Of Depression 2.0: #038
Red Headlines For April 15, 2008
Feed People Or Feed Machines?
Chronicles Of Depression 2.0: #028
Are You Going To Starve Too?
Chronicles Of Depression 2.0: #020
Chronicles Of Depression 2.0: #018
Depression 2.0: The New Breadline
Chronicles Of Depression 2.0: #013
Chronicles Of Depression 2.0: #011
The Worst Buzz Term: Food Security
What Happens When Food Is Short?
In The Future, Will The Obese Eat?Saturday, January 5th, 2008

Explore posts in the same categories: C.O.A.T. - Food, Depression 2.0, Uncategorized

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: