Food & agriculture - Mar 17
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Warning of world phosphate shortage
Matthew Warren,, The Australian
THE exponential growth in global food production has not only sent the price of fertilisers skyrocketing, but could lead to a world shortage of phosphate within decades.
Beyond a temporary market spike driven by richer developing countries and increased supply of biofuels, researchers are warning that the world could face dwindling supplies of phosphate by 2040 unless steps are taken to use it more efficiently and recover it from human waste.
But unlike oil, which can be managed by substituting other sources of energy, there is no substitute for the critical role of phosphate in plant development and production.
Mineral phosphorous fertilisers come from mined phosphate rock found in places such as Christmas Island, Nauru and Morocco, which is the world's biggest exporter of the resource.
"Quite simply, without phosphorus we cannot produce food," says Dana Cordell of the Institute of Sustainable Futures, based in Sydney.
Growth in demand for food in China and India, coupled with increased switching of food crops to biofuels in the US, have increased the demand for fertilisers, raising the world price fourfold in the past year.
(12 March 2008)
EB contributor Aaron writes:
Global rock phosphate prices, the percursor necessary for all phosphate fertilizers has surged from US$40/t to US$250/t currently. Second half 2008 contracts are being negotiated for US$350-400/t. That would translated to a 1000% price rise in under 2 years.
What Would Heinberg Do?
Suburban Permaculture with Janet Barocco and Richard Heinberg (video)
Janaia Donaldson, Peak Moment TV
Tour Janet and Richard’s quarter acre for an example of what’s possible in suburbia. Their front yard of edible plants also provides habitat for birds and insects. The backyard radiates out from an herb and kitchen garden to vegetable beds and containers; 25 fruit and nut trees; and a restful Zen garden. Near a future pond is a “three sisters” spiral of corn, beans and squashes. Check out their rainwater catchment barrels system, solar ovens, grid-tied photovoltaics with backup batteries, a low-energy house, solar-heated garden room, and a comfortable “summer palace” of natural & salvaged materials.
(11 March 2008)
Edible landscape likely to become a U.S. paradigm
Carl Etnier, Barre/Montpelier Times Argus (Vermont)
... In our still energy-rich society, some people are already pioneering the transition to an edible landscape. The ELA conference began with a one-day seminar on creating edible landscapes, led by Massachusetts permaculturalists David Jacke and Jono Neiger. Jacke is co-author of the two-volume "Edible Forest Gardens," which describes how to make beautiful landscapes out of trees and bushes that produce food and nuts. Add a "forest floor" layer of edible perennials and annuals, and food production increases even more.
Abundant food production requires healthy soils, and conference attendees had many approaches to keeping and building soil fertility. One of the vendors at the trade show produces seaweed-based fertilizers, which they have sold to golf courses for decades. Golf course turf managers are the gourmet chefs of lawn care products, keeping acres of grass friendly to the rolling of golf balls and the rambles of the golfers who chase them. Turf managers are ready to pay top dollar for fertilizers that work well, and the premium prices have financed the seaweed fertilizer company's research. According to the vendors, applying seaweed extract both improves plant health and increases the grass's efficiency in taking up nutrients from the soil. The vendors told me that they are now trying to reach a more agricultural market. In an energy-scarce world, golf courses are unlikely to remain a cash cow.
One of the more intriguing approaches to building and maintaining soil fertility came from the ancient farmers of the Amazon. Those ancient farmers sent no representatives to the trade show, but Charles Mann, author of the best-selling "1491," described what archeologists have learned about their methods. Recent discoveries have added a significant footnote to the understanding of tropical soils that prevailed when I studied soils in college. Tropical soils, I learned then, are much older and more worn out than the soils of our climate. They don't hold nutrients well; almost all nutrients in a tropical rainforest are held within living and decaying plants. Consequently, slash-and-burn agriculture releases a lot of nutrients and produces good yields for one or a few years, but then the nutrients are leached from the soils, and yields drop.
Mann showed pictures of tropical soils that were cultivated hundreds or thousands of years ago and are still full of nutrients and organic matter.
Carl Etnier, director of Peak Oil Awareness, blogs at vtcommons.org/blog and hosts radio shows on WGDR, 91.1 FM Plainfield and WDEV 96.1 FM/550 AM, Waterbury. He can be reached at EnergyMattersVermont@yahoo.com.
(16 March 2008)
Author Carl Etnier is an Energy Bulletin contributor.