You Are What You Smoke

By Ms Ada Blossom

For the most part people try to stay generally informed about the quality of any item they are about to ingest such as the food they buy at the supermarket. Checking to see if the avocados they just bought are organic, making sure the coffee is “fair trade” and even buying products with real sugar instead of corn syrup all in an effort to be known as “one who knows and cares”. However, this overly protective attitude towards what one is eating seems to “fly out the window” while at the grow shop. With no regard for where the nutrient line gets their ingredients, how purified they are or how they are obtained for that matter; one simply throws the most popular or brightly  packaged, well gimmicked nutrient line into the cart. Hmmm??? Aren’t you eventually ingesting that???

So everyone knows the basic elements in nutrients, NPK, Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium right? OK well do you know where your NPK comes from? How it gets there? What it does to the envi- ronment? What the elemental deposits are found next to? You might “make sure” there are no pes- ticides on your apples…but do you “make sure” that there is no Cadmium or Lead residues in your fertilizer?

Just like oil these essential elements to proper pho- tosynthesis and plant growth are a finite resource, meaning that they will eventually be depleted if mining continues at the current rate. NPK all have  a cycle that accumulates more of the elements over time, but the rate of consumption has far surpassed the rate of deposition. Especially with increased need since the “Green Revolution” of the agricul- tural industry after World  War Two.  This was when farmers started to abandon organic farming and switched over to mass production methods via heavy fertilizer application. The most “hard hit” element in this new frontier of stimulating plant


growth is Phosphorus, figures show that we have reached peak production of Phosphorus and just like Peak  Oil there is no where to go but down. The peak of oil has  been highly publicized in recent years and has overshad- owed the fact that many other finite resources necessary for life as we know it are reaching their peak as well.

Phosphorus takes an estimated 10 -15 million years to be uplifted to the surface and become minable, current known reserves are thought to run out within the next fifty to a hundred years. There are only a few places on  the planet where rock has a high enough concentration to be worth extracting, China having the largest reserves fol- lowed by the Western Sahara reserves controlled by Morocco and here in the United States (Florida). The United States has only 25 years left of phosphate rock reserves (a number that could easily decrease with the increase in bio fuel crop production) and China has taken full advantage of holding the world’s largest reserves and imposed a 135 % trade tariff on all phosphorus exports. Phosphorus prices rose drastically in a fourteen month period, 700 %, from 50 $ a ton to 350 $ a ton, prices will undoubtedly continue to rise as demand rises and supplies diminish. The USGS estimates that there are only approx- imately 2,358 megatons of phosphorus containing rocks remaining. However, much of those reserves are rocks of poor phosphorus quality and become energy intensive to extract a pure product. It is difficult to remove all of the heavy metals from the source rock and you could be put- ting dangerous levels of these on your garden every day unknowingly.

Much of the rock being mined currently has decreasing concentrations of P2O5 and the concentrations of more heavy metal elements in the source rock are increasing, heavy metals such as cadmium are often found in phos- phorus deposits. At times the amount of cadmium is very high and becomes expensive and timely to remove enough

of the toxic metal to create a safe product for agricultural purposes. Removing the phosphorus from  the  source rock also creates a large amount of toxic by-products. For every ton of phosphoric acid produced five tons of phos- phogypsum are produced, radium levels are high in this by-product and must be treated as a hazardous  waste. You might recycle every other Tuesday, but did you know that bloom booster you use religiously has the ability to create a by-product waste as dangerous as the nuclear facility you protested last week?

So with phosphorus source rocks running out what will the alternative to this finite resource be? Some say Phosphorus can be extracted from wastewater, as it is excreted in human urine (that “crazy” guy that said pee- ing on your plants was good for them…he could  have  been right…), however, that is an energy intensive process and not efficient enough to be a viable option everywhere.

So next time you are at your favorite indoor gardening store do not simply fall for brightly colored advertising gimmicks put forth by fertilizer companies. The most important thing about the fertilizer brand you choose is the quality of the NPK, Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium, in your supplement, it would be safer to your- self and the environment to grow organic if you can and just remember to be wise about everything you are putting into your body.

*Here’s a chart I did with the remaining estimated reserves to put into perspective who “owns” us in the fertilizer markets and who will have to pay to continue to grow food or anything else in the quantity we do currently…

Numbers for these charts were obtained from a USGS mineral survey of world phosphorus reserves 009.pdf

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