Disadvantages of Artificial and Synthetic Fertilizer | Blog Post | Lao Integrated Farms, Inc. Official Blog Page

Disadvantages of Artificial and Synthetic Fertilizer

Agriculture is the backbone of the Philippines' economy and farming is still by far the most common form of employment in the country. According to the recent Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations data, between 1961 and 2005 fertiliser application in the Philippines increased by 1000%, whilst yields of rice and maize increase only by 200% and 280%, respectively, and yield pulses remained about the same.
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Introduction

Agriculture is the backbone of the Philippines' economy and farming is still by far the most common form of employment in the country. According to the recent Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations data, between 1961 and 2005 fertiliser application in the Philippines increased by 1000%, whilst yields of rice and maize increase only by 200% and 280%, respectively, and yield pulses remained about the same. The main expenditure in farms is agrochemical inputs: 65% is for fertiliser[1]. Such figures but the return of investment is only at a 1:0.24-rate. Are these synthetic fertilisers really helping the farmers like what their marketing and advertisements say? Or it is just yet again another part of this world's most common myth we ought to always believe?

Plants as we have been taught in grade school, need the three primary macronutrients which are Nitrogen (N), Potassium (K) and Phosphorus (P), or the “NPK”. However, there are actually thirteen that the plants needed in order to sustain. The secondary macronutrients are namely, Calcium (Ca), Magnesium (Mg), and Sulfur (S). The “NPK”, acting as the primary macronutrients are responsible for the root development below the ground, increase growth above the ground and flowering and fruiting, respectively; thus, it must be replaced regularly. Whilst the secondary are accumulated by the plants from the soil, so it does not need to be replaced or added regularly. The last seven are micronutrients which are used by the plants in very small quantities which are Boron (B), Copper (Cu), Iron (Fe), Chlorine (Cl), Manganese (Mn), Molybdenum (Mo) and Zinc (Zn).

The countless, so-called agriculture companies, make they wave to help the farmers and the consumers by manufacturing these fertilisers to reap better yields thus placing enough food for the rest. The synthetic fertilisers are, in fact, wihout any other introduction, by-products of the petrolium industry. It simply means, the residue which could not be made into petrolium are turned into fertilisers. The most common examples that we know are Ammonium Nitrate, Ammonium Phosphate, SuperPhosphate, and Potassium Sulfate. The “NPK” is usually the primary ingredient of these fertilisers since these are the nutrients needed to be added regularly to the plants.

Natural Fertilisers, like the ones used in Lao Integrated Farms, are either made from ingredients found in the house's backyard or in the chicken coop. Primarily, The Farm uses organic inputs like Vermicast, Fermented Fruit Juice (FFJ), Fermented Plant Juice (FPJ), Fish-Amino Acid (FAA), Fermented Seaweed, Calcium Phosphate, VermiTea and the President and CEO's self-invention the LIFE and EMAN. These fertilisers and growth enhancers can be made by anyone even without the experience. Step-by-Step Instructions can be followed here. Vermicast is composed of a mixture or either of the following: cattle, horse and goat dumps; added with crushed coconut husk. It is fed to the worms called African Night Crawlers and finally mixed with a few amount of carbonised rice hull. The thing is plants cannot determine the difference between the natural fertiliser and the synthetic so it processed both the similar ways. Yet, there are more to process than this particular intance alone.

Synthetic Fertilizers vs Natural Fertilisers [2]

Synthetic Fertilisers add nutrients to the soil - full stop. Plants need more than the macro and micro nutrients mentioned above to survive. There is a symbiotic relationship between plants and other organic matters - also a grade school lesson that we all ought to have forgotten. Synthetic fertilisers has not the support to the microbiological life in the soil - what do you expect from a petrolium by-product when its parent product causes global warming. According to the research, the application of synthetic fertilisers actually destroys a very significant amount of benefecial microorganisms in the soil - like the acrrhizal fungi which interacts with the ninety-percent of the world's flora since 500-million years ago. Many of the microorganisms are responsible for the breaking down of organic matters into an even modification in order to improve the soil's quality and fertility. Even the tiny specs of creatures has the largest effects. And some are to convert nitrogen from the air, modifying it to plants' consumable quality.

Without anything futher to explain, anyone can easily imagine that the Natural Fertilisers are very much a help to the micoorganisms living underneath the soil and the roots of the plants. It also, furtherly, introduces other benefecial organisms. The microorganisms commonly found in the compost convert organic nitrogen into inorganic nitrogen - popularly called Mineralisation. Plants take these up as it is released by the microorganisms. There are numerous variety of microbes, astonishing varieties, found in Composts. Which are believed to be benefecial in the control of pathogens on plants.

Here are some of the few disadvantages of Synthetic Fertilisers.

  • It does not support microbiological life in the soil. Since it is synthetic, most of the ingedients are man-made making other biological life-forms unaware of its existence beforehand and succumbs to the unknown effects.
  • It does not contain other significant micronutrients. As what it is mentioned, the primary ingredient of the synthetic fertilisers are only “NPK” to enhance growth and fruiting.
  • It does not add organic content to the soil.
  • It can be easily over-applied resulting to toxic concentration of salt in the soil and roots of the plants may burn.
  • It often leaches or drips down because it dissolves so fast and they release nutrients more than the plants could use up.
  • Since it releases nutrients so quickly, it makes a great deal in the speedy growth of the plant but leaving the roots unable to catch up. Results are weaker and disease vulnerable plants with less fruit yield.

Plants require healthy and natural environment rather than an artificially treated one.

Many farmers are complaining that their lands are no longer suitable for farming anymore. Believed to be exhausted since it was farmed from their ancestral line, they start to either abandon or sell the wide hectares of farm. Well, in fact, the most common reason why the farming land these days are not suitable for farming is due to the fact that these synthetic fertilisers are mainly contributing to the increase of the acidity of the soil. Other farmers, tend to increase the amount of application over the years since the previous applications are no longer effective. This is one way of abusing the application which leads to many other losses such as of the soil structure and the loss of the soil's organic matters.

Acidity in the Soil

In recent years, there are various independent researches that shows synthetic fertilisers makes the soil acidic. Whilst many chemical reactions take place in the soil, the nitrogen conversion occur through the action of soil organisms. Let's take up some Chemistry. The most common known form of Nitrogen (N) is Ammonium (NH4+). It is found in the excretions of most huge organisms. This is consumed by plants, fungi and other types of special bacteria called Nitrifying Bacteria. Their excrement contains nitrogen in the form of (NO2-) which is consumed by other forms of bateria that excretes nitrogen in the form of Nitrates (NO3-). This is the preferred form of nitrogen most grassess and plants consume. It is then not by surprise that most grasslands are dominated by bacteria. On the other hand, soils that are lack of oxygen, either due to water logging and compaction, etc., contain large numbers of (facultative) anaerobic bacteria - these can exist without oxygen and being called Dinitrifying Bacteria. These will take so much of the (NO3-) that converts it into the gaseous forms of nitrogen - (N2 or N2O) and oxygen. Now, you can imagine the cycle that these bacteria supplies the Nitrogen Fixing Bateria their needed oxygen to continue the cycle all-along. So, the Nitrogen within the soil is never lost.

However, once we apply synthetic fertilisers to our plants to grab the chance of the promising magical effect it has, this cycle is in grave danger. Nitrogen, one of the three minerals mainly inside the grains of artificial fertiliser, will either be applied as nitrates or converted into nitrates disrupts the delicate system there-in. Thus the soil environment deals with the artificially created excess of nitrogen in the way the system works naturally. Nitrates are salts, like the preceeding paragraphs mentioned, this is not good at a very high amount. It dehydrates the sorroundings depriving the soil from water which would supposedly support the plant. They are also very strong oxidizers, literally burning up the organic matter in the soil. This should not be a serious problem in a stable organic environment since the presence of the nitrate NO3- occuring naturally can be consumed by the cycle before it becomes excessive. Henceforth, the inorganic salt produce becomes the acid that kills the cycle and the other microorganisms involved in the cycle.

Let is give some examples of the most common nitrogen fertilisers and their effects:

  • Ammonium Sulfate (NH4)2SO4 --- 21-0-0 + 24% Sulfur
    1. In the soil, it reacts with water to produce Sulfuric Acid (H2SO4),
    2. Sulfuric acid, like all acids are, has less than 1 pH. Extremely toxic and kills organisms.
    3. Hydrogen ions released from the acid replace alkaline elements on the cation exhange site, depleting the soil of nutrients.
    4. The free oxygen created in the reaction oxidises the organic matter of the soil - causes a low level combustion or burning in organic matter. This is a purely chemical reaction which depletes the organic matter.
    5. In calcareous soils, those with excess calcium, the sulfuric acid reacts with Calcium Carbonate (CaCO3) to form gypsum (CaSO4 or Calcium Sulfate). Gypsum is a salt that attracts water to itself away from soil organisms and plant roots. In anaerobic conditions gypsum and water form Hydrogen Sulfide (H2S), a toxic gas.
    6. And, lastly, we must not forget that Sulfuric Acid is a major component of acid rain.
  • Ammonium Nitrate (NH4)2NO3 --- 34-0-0
    1. In the soil, it breaks down into ammonium (NH4+) and Nitrate (NO3-).
    2. The ammonium is consumed by plants and fungi, or by the Denitrifying Bacteria, eventually convert it to Nitrate.
    3. The Nitrates are consumed by soil organisms, leached, ot converted into nitrogen gas and volatised.
    4. The free oxygen created in the reaction oxidises the organic matter of the soil - causes a low level combustion or burning in organic matter. This is a purely chemical reaction which depletes the organic matter.
  • Urea (NH2CONH2 --- 46-0-0
    1. The Urea is consumed by bacteria which convert it to Anhydrous Ammonia, a gas, and Carbon Dioxide (2(NH3)+CO2). Anhydrous Ammonia is highly toxic and kills organisms.
    2. If applied to the soil surface, the gases quickly dissipates. However, in the presence of high air humidity Andydrous Ammonia gas vapours from. Heavier than air, these can accumulate in low lying areas.
    3. If incorporated into the soil, the ammonia gas reacts with water (H2O) to produce Ammonium Hydroxide (NH4OH), which has a pH of 11.6. It is highly caustic and causes severe burns. This creates a toxic zone in the immediate vicinity that kills seeds, seedlings and soil dwelling organisms.
    4. Within a few days after application, a further chemical reaction in the soil releases the Ammonium Ion NH4+, which then follows the same path as naturally occuring ammonium, with any excess nitrate created in this way leached into the environment.
  • Sulfur Coated Urea --- 46-0-0 + S
    1. The Sulfur reacts with Oxygen to form Sulfur Dioxide (SO2), which reacts with water and NO2 to form Sulfuric Acid.
    2. The Sulfuric Acid does what it does from the previous example.
    3. The Urea does what does it does as well.
  • Urea Formaldehyde --- 46-0-0 + CH2O
    1. The Formaldehyde dissolves in water and is leached through the soil. It is, as we all know, used as a preservative on laboratory experiments and even the deceased for funeral before interment. A very and highly toxic substance, Formaldehyde. It kills all the soil organisms it comes contact with.
    2. The Urea does what does it does as well.
  • Potassium Chloride / Muriate of Potash KCl - 0-0-60
    1. Contains about 50% Potassium and 50% Chloride. In the soil Chloride combines with nitrates to form Chlorine gas. This kilss microbes. Applying 1 pound of Potassium Chloride to the soil is equivalent to applying 1 gallon of Chlorox bleach. Make it a figure: roughly, 2 ppm Chlorine are generally thought to be sufficient to sterilise drinking water - Potassium Chloride application typically results in Chloride levels as high as 50-200 ppm.
    2. Potassium Chloride contains very high amounts of Potassium, which can result in an unbalance Phosphate:Potash ratio, This ratio ideally ranges from 2:1 in most soils to 4:1 in grasses.
    3. Excess Potassium in the soil can lead to a Calcium deficiency in plant, since plants absorb Calcium, Magnesium and Potassium largely in the ratio in which they are present in the soil.
    4. In the soil, excess Potassium causes a loss of structure. Reduce soil air levels result in reduced root respiration and the production of toxic compound in plants. Reduced soil air and insufficient Calcium each also in the reduction of soil microbes and the corresponding reduced breakdown of organic matter/nutrient availability to plants.
    5. In drilling, Potassium is used to “close” the soil because it disintegrates the clay particles and effectively seals the soil.

Conclusion

By reading and carefully analyzing the given data above, it is easily declared that these fertilisers have been speeding the growth of the crops and slowing poisoning the soil. How much more the consumers of the crops? We must ask the question, should we really know what we are doing? Farmers are considered the backbone of a country since they are the ones feeding an entire nation's hungry mouths. We could not blame them from using these fertilisers as the demand and supply of food crops are needed to be filled. The promising labels of the synthetic fertilisers and their quick astonishing effects lead to the very serious problem faced by many nations. The bad effects of the synthetic fertilisers outweighs the benefits it can give.

Natural fertilisers may have a very significantly slow effect on the crops growth but it is how plants grows. Although effects are slow, it is long lasting. Enough to say, in many years prior to the discovery of artificial fertiliser, the crops harvested have been well and good. Synthetic fertilisers are slow killers, if we conclude further. Killing the lands, thus killing the crops to be planted in the future. What will these bring us all in the next few decades. What other means we could rely on. It is never too late to switch back to Natural Farming - before it is too late.

By careful understanding and application, there is no need for the demand and supply in the market. In fact, figures from the Institution of Mechanical Engineers show as much as 2-billion tonnes of food never makes it on to a plate that is between 30% to 50% of the total crop production[3]. Whilst we all worry about the population growth and the short on crop production, we all throw as much food that could be fed to countries with drought and scarcity.

References:


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Disadvantages of Artificial and Synthetic Fertilizer

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