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Peak weed-killer?

Andrew Leonard, Salon
Maybe it’s a good thing grain prices are breaking records. Without the extra income, farmers might not be able to afford either the fertilizer necessary to feed their crops, or the herbicides required to keep weeds out. (I refer here to non-organic farmers — we’re talking strictly industrial monoculture…)

The relentless ascent of synthetic fertilizer prices have been mentioned here numerous times. But lately, the farming press has been sounding the alarm on a new danger — price hikes for glyphosate — a.k.a. Monsanto’s RoundUp — are also heading sky-high.

… But demand, whether propelled by biofuels, changing diets, isn’t the only reason for the price rise. So is scarcity of a key ingredient: phosphorus.

Perhaps you, like How the World Works, were more familiar with phosphorus’ role as one of founding pillars, along with potassium and nitrogen, of the holy triumvirate of synthetic fertilizer. But in a bizarre twist of chemical fate, phosphorus is also a critical ingredient in glyphosate. Imagine that: The same chemical necessary to make some plants grow is also required to kill off other plants. Chemistry is cool that way.

What’s not cool is that rock phosphate, the source of nearly all industrially-used phosphorus, is a non-renewable resource, and some scientists think reserves will run out within the next 40 to 50 years. The implications for so-called RoundUp Monsanto-style agriculture, in which crops genetically modified to be immune to the weed killer require massive inputs of synthetic fertilizer and applications of glyphosate to properly prosper, are troubling.

… To recap: synthetic fertilizer and industrial herbicide prices are rising because of growing demand, resource scarcity, and energy costs. That backyard organic garden, presumably recycling every nutrient possible, is sounding less and less like an elite affectation, every single day.
(8 April 2008)
Contributor Aaron Edmonds writes:
A tightening of global rock phosphate supplies has seen prices rise from US$40 to US$400/t in the last 12 months. This has left farmers such as myself with no other choice, in appreciating the severity of the situation earlier, but to physically acquire up to two years supply of superphosphate and invest in phosphate mining companies to hedge against further price rises. Of course price rises are one thing, physical shortages are another world. In the longer term farmers must drive research into lower phosphate removal in grains and foster the growth of lower phosphorus requiring food crops, some of which may be unfamiliar to the food cultures of the majority of mankind. The Australian sandalwood nut crop is just one such example …

Shortage of fertiliser hits farmers

New India Press
JEYPORE: Acute shortage of potash fertiliser in the district has hit the farmers hard with the rabi paddy crop turning yellow in most of the tribal pockets.

Taking advantage of the situation, black marketeers in Jeypore are selling the fertiliser at an exhibirant price to desperate farmers under the very nose of Agriculture Department officials.

According to reports, the farmers of Koraput district cultivated about 20,000 hectares of land for kharif paddy and the paddy transplanting got over last month.

As per the farmers’ requirement, about 1000 tonnes of potash should have been supplied to the district during March for rabi cultivation but there was acute shortage of potash during the month and only 300 tonnes was supplied that created shortage of potash fertiliser in the markets.

Affected farmers those who cultivated paddy crop in Jeypore, Kundra, Kotpad, Borrigumma and Boipariguda pathces informed that the paddy crop which is in a tillering stage, got damaged without sufficient potash.

The farmers have been running from pillar to post to get potash to save their crop but in vain. Meanwhile, some black-marketeers are selling potash for Rs. 270 per bag (50 kg) in the market, Rs. 40 more than the normal price and some farmers are being even forced to buy it.
(9 April 2008)
Bob Shaw (totoneila) monitors the news about fertilizer at The Oil Drum. He writes:
Have you hugged your bag of NPK today?

Farmers/gardeners will not be interested in trading grains/produce for big screen TVs or plastic salad shooters–you better have something biosolar mission-critical.

Contributor Aaron Edmonds writes:
Potash is one of the top 3 essential nutrients for crop production globally. Although a mined mineral, this process relies on using vast amounts of natural gas to precipitate the potassium salt out of solution mined from deep underground, sometimes from depths up to 2kms. Potassium is particularly important for plant structural integrity hence any cellulosic industry growth would result in a tremendous demand spike in potash demand. Yet another twist in relationship of peak oil to agriculture.

Australian farmers attack fertiliser pricing

The Rural (Australia)
Fertiliser suppliers and farmers made the claims of market distortion in submissions to the senate inquiry headed by Junee Senator Bill Heffernan, which is investigating possible cartel behaviour in the fertiliser and chemical industries.

While not wanting to pre-empt the inquiry’s conclusion, Mr Heffernan said the submissions showed there was a discrepancy between fertiliser prices and costs.

“I think it’d be fair to say prices have been based on what market can bear rather than on the cost of production,” Mr Heffernan said.

… The price of fertiliser products has spiralled in the last year, with the majority going up by 100 to 200 per cent and some products rising as much as 400 per cent.

In a submission to the inquiry, the NSW Farmers Association said its members were concerned over the lack of price transparency in the market.

… US fertiliser Mosaic told the inquiry the high fertiliser costs were being caused by a doubling in global demand and an increase in petroleum and gas costs required for the fertiliser production.
(10 April 2008)