Do we need synthetic fertilizers?

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According to organic advocates Tom Philpott and Barry Estabrook, we don’t need synthetic fertilizers at all. Both argue that organic agriculture can produce enough food for the world’s population based on comparisons of yields of organic and conventional farms. In cooking terms, comparing the yields (the amounts of crops produced on an acre) of organic and conventional farms is like comparing the end product of different recipes. That’s important if you’re trying to decide what to make for dinner, but even the best-tested recipe is useless without the required ingredients. Likewise, no agricultural system works without nitrogen. Rejecting synthetic fertilizer, as organic does, would leave us reliant on biological nitrogen fixation by diazotrophs (primarily in the roots of legumes on farmland) for nitrogen. Only so much biological nitrogen fixation can take place on a plot of land in a year, so it’s important to ask whether we can get enough nitrogen this way. Arguing for all-organic agriculture without being able to answer that question in the affirmative is a bit like promising your dinner guests a wild mushroom risotto without making sure that you can find enough chanterelles.5

View the original article here: An Unlikely Fix: nitrogen fertilizer and organic agriculture

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