Fertilizer Feeds The World
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An objective look at 5,000 years of recorded world history will tell you several important things about people in the collective sense. First, human beings are full of wonderful potential for compassion, innovation and achievement. Secondly, these qualities are brought to full bloom where and when people have access to healthy food.
Most of those estimating world population growth agree that by 2050 there will be more than 9 billion people on the planet. That’s nearly 3 billion more than are alive today. More of all kinds of people with all kinds of ideas with at least one thing in common: They will often be hungry and they will need food to eat.
It has only been during the last century or so that the possibility of famine has been largely eliminated from the developed world. But for the developing world, the quest for life outside the shadow of hunger – free from the possibility of famine – continues every day.
There are signs, though, that the day is closer than ever before when famine could be eliminated. Untold numbers of smart people are applying themselves to developing the science of crop production all around the world. Advances in crop genetics, plant health, and production technology all contribute to the ability of modern agriculture to produce more than ever before.
But, in the midst of that progress, it is still fertilizer that feeds the world. Land use, human nutrition and the carbon cycle form an intricate set of relationships. Healthy plants use carbon dioxide, give off oxygen and increase soil organic matter (OM), thereby enhancing soil fertility. Harvesting crops removes nutrients in the form of our food, and those nutrients must be replaced to nourish the next crop. For these reasons, soil fertility and fertilizer will remain key components of feeding the world’s hungry population. Our overall standard of living is made possible largely by farmers’ work to produce abundant, high-quality, affordable food.
However, as agriculture has grown more productive, fewer people understand it. Agriculture should not become isolated from society. We cannot allow the idea that “food comes only from the supermarket” to take root. It is nearly impossible for people to make good decisions about any subject unless those decisions are informed decisions. It is incumbent upon agriculture and those who care about it to make the case for agriculture and for fertilizer, fostering an appreciation among policy makers and the general public for today’s agriculture.
It’s in this spirit that we’ve developed Fertilizer 101. It’s our hope, as an industry, that readers will benefit from a better understanding of what fertilizer is and why it’s so important to our future.
There is much at stake. Without the fertilizer industry and the research that helps it fulfill its vital role, food and fiber production per acre could be reduced by as much as half. More land would have to go into production. More forest land – including precious, irreplaceable rain forests – would need to be planted. More areas of marginal farmland would be filled, only to be abandoned as they suffer nutrient depletion and erosion. All of this would be to the detriment of the environment.
Instead, we can continue to use the fruits of knowledge to further increase the efficiency of fertilizer and develop new best practices. We can meet the needs of a growing population while minimizing the impact of human activity on the natural environment and preserving resources for the benefit of future generations.
Thanks for your interest in Fertilizer 101 and all those who play a part in sharing the story of the importance of plant nutrients.
President, The Fertilizer Institute