Manure More Precious Than Gold

From Gene Logsdon

I half-jokingly suggested about a year ago that animal manure— used livestock, horse, and chicken bedding— was going to be the hottest commodity on the Chicago Board of Trade. There are indications now that such a seemingly absurd prediction might not be so absurd after all. Last year the prices of some farm fertilizers shot up to over a thousand dollars a ton. Ammonium polyphosphate is still nearly that high. Deposits of potash in Canada, a main source of our potassium fertilizers, are declining. Natural gas, from which commercial nitrogen fertilizer is manufactured, is rising in cost as other uses compete for it. Long term, there are reasons to believe that the era of abundant manufactured fertilizers is passing.

There is nothing funny about that prediction. Nor should organic farmers feel vindicated. If we run out of commercial fertilizers, there would be no way we could avoid a precipitous decline in crop yields while farmers switched to all-organic methods. It has taken us a couple hundred years to reduce the organic matter content in our soils to the low levels of today and experts say it might take at least half that long to build them back up again. Getting enough manure and other organic wastes to make up for a shortage of commercial fertilizer would be an enormous challenge requiring changes not only in agricultural attitudes but cultural attitudes as well.

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One Comment

We shouldn’t forget that animal manure is also a major source of global warming.