The Rising Cost of Filling Up the Farm

The always-interesting Andrew Leonard at Salon has a fascinating post on a new concept: peak fertilizer. That’s a play on peak oil, of course, the idea that someday soon oil production will crest and inexorably fall. As Leonard writes, the production of the nitrogen compounds in fertilizer—what makes crops get up and go—is “extraordinarily energy intensive. So when energy prices rise, so do fertilizer prices.”

In a desperate attempt to avoid potential peak-oil madness, we’re planting even more corn and soybeans for ethanol and biodiesel. Which creates this inside-out scenario:

The growth of energy crops is in part directly attributable to rising energy prices. But the demand for synthetic fertilizer to nurture those energy crops requires the consumption of even more fossil fuel, thus likely pushing energy prices further, and creating even more demand for energy crops. On second thought, that’s not ironic. That’s tragic.

Leonard links to a story that even claims the high price and low supply of fertilizer “may make more farmers consider converting to organic production.”

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