Peak Phosphorus: Will Agri-Industry’s Favorite Fertilizer Run Out?

by Project Censored
Published: Last Updated on

The Earth is allegedly running out of phosphorus. Nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus form the Holy Trinity of industrial agriculture. The agri-business industry has abandoned traditional crop rotation in favor of a more profitable factory farm model that relies on replenishing soil with these mined minerals Phosphate is found mostly in a “few large deposits scattered around the planet.” The vast majority of known high grade phosphorus  reserves are in Morocco’s  highly disputed Western Sahara region.  Potassium is also a non-renewable resource, harvested from potash mostly in Canada and the Former Soviet States. The urgency, however, lies with phosphorus, whose production will likely peak in 2030.

In 2011,The New York Times published a profile of investor Jeremy Grantham  which included mention of his warnings about  phosphorus consumption. Forbes mentioned peak phosphorous in 2010 in order to contextualize a report on a Canadian company in business recovering phosphorus from sewage. This recovery could be profitable, but would not likely put a dent in the emerging phosphorous  shortage. These stories are typical of mainstream media coverage of the issue, where articles about other subjects mention the crisis as an aside.

Sources:

The Salt (NPR), “Should You Be Worried About Your Meat’s Phosphorus Footprint?”  February 17th, 2013. http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2013/02/14/172009950/should-you-be-worried-about-your-meats-phosphorus-footprint.

Metson, Geneviève S et al, “The role of diet in phosphorus demand.” IOP Science. December 2012. http://iopscience.iop.org/1748-9326/7/4/044043

Thompson, Claire. “The farmer’s gold dust: A looming shortage of phosphate threatens global food security.” The Brisbane Times. February 20th, 2013. http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/environment/the-farmers-gold-dust-20130212-2eado.html

Filpott, Tom, “Are We Heading Toward Peak Fertilizer?”

Mother Jones, November 28,2012. http://www.motherjones.com/tom-philpott/2012/11/are-we-heading-toward-peak-fertilizer

Burkart, Karl. “Where sewage meets ‘Peak Phosphorus.’” Forbes. June 2nd, 2010. http://www.forbes.com/2010/06/01/peak-phosphorous-fertilizer-technology-sewage.html

Rotella, Carlos, The New York Times, August 11, 2011, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/14/magazine/can-jeremy-grantham-profit-from-ecological-mayhem.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

 

Student Researcher: Nadra Dennis (SUNY Buffalo State)

Faculty Evaluator: Dr. Michael I. Niman (SUNY Buffalo State)