Global population is projected to increase from 6.8 billion to 9 billion people in 2050- all sharing the world’s food supply.
Can global food output using conventional farming practices meet forecasted consumption and nutritional demands? The short answer is no, unless we take action NOW. We must enhance current agri-food methodologies to both increase volume and provide higher nutritional outputs to successfully meet our future needs. It will require 14.1 million square miles of arable land to feed 9 billion people. The problem is that Earth has less than half this amount available to grow crops. Only 6 million (11% of the Earth’s surfaces) are arable to seed due to erosion and urbanization and this figure is continuously diminishing. The United States alone loses 2.5 million acres of farmland yearly. Only 100 years ago, soil was rich and fertile with a natural balance of all the necessary micronutrients. Agricultural output was low compared to present standards, but the demand was met. As population grew, the need for greater yields followed.
It was not until the 1920’s with advancements in agricultural chemistry that synthetic fertilizer was developed in mass scale. The advent was based on three minerals or macronutrients that plants need most: nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium (NPK). At first, applying large amounts of NPK garnered fantastic results. Food supplies rose drastically to satisfy demand.
Years later, during the 1950’s, there appeared to be a serious issue. The traditional practices of harvesting crops had unintentionally drained the vital micronutrients from the soil at a rate of 30 times faster than nature could replenish. The 87 natural minerals that were abundant throughout the last century had been strip-mined, causing plants to become weak and unhealthy which significantly reduced nutritional values. Unlike the natural process of converting thousands of year’s worth of decaying plant matter and weathering rock into fertile topsoil, NPK fertilizers had to be added to offset mineral degradation. The inherent tradeoff had serious repercussions. By not replacing vital micronutrients, which keeps topsoil fortified and moist: pests, fungi, and diseases were invited. This in turn caused the rise of pesticides and herbicide use to double in a 40-year period.
NPK had to be applied to stimulate and improve yields. From 1960 to 2000, fertilizer use increased 800% worldwide. Every year more fertilizer was needed to enhance and maintain agriculture productivity rates. However, for the past decade, agricultural output has been flat, yet fertilizer, chemical, and fossil fuel inputs are steadily rising. More resources are required to produce the same yield while the nutrient quality in plants and soils continue to decline.
Continual harvesting without nourishment removes the necessary micronutrients needed for optimal plant growth. Adding back only NP&K macronutrients creates nutrient-deficient soil. Consequently, plants only receive what they need to survive and little of what they require to thrive. For instance, if zinc is not available in the soil, nitrogen, phosphate, or potassium will not substitute. Plants can only absorb those nutrients that are made available to them, and NPK cannot accommodate for the deficit. If required, the plant will go without a complete micro nutrient buffet but will reject excessive NPK applications to increase output.
The agricultural pollution caused by chemical fertilizer runoff is widely reported. When the macronutrients are applied in excess of plant needs, they can pollute surface and groundwater, which eventually lead to rivers and the ocean. When fertilizers enter the water, consequences are severe.
Whether through runoff or leeching, water contamination affects the whole ecosystem.
Of the NPK trio, nitrogen and phosphorous destroy the environment most rapidly. High traces of nitrates found in water harm humans and animals alike. Whereas the excess phosphates find their way into bodies of water and suffocate the living organisms by pulling out the oxygen giving way to algae blooms and dead zones.
In general, the mass ecological damage caused by synthetic chemicals used to deter pests from undernourished plants is equally as devastating. In the same way as excessive fertilizer use, pesticides, herbicides and fungicides enter our waterways and compromise the environment. They do this by killing natural vegetation through run-off and by entering streams and rivers to contaminate fish, who in turn contaminate the larger land animals who feed on them.
For more than 50 years, agri-food systems have produced foods and plants that lack critically needed nutrients, and as a result, these foods and plants cannot meet the nutritional needs of humans or livestock. Our soil is starving. The periodic table has 90 natural elements, but 87 of these vital elements are missing from most fertilizers. What sparse amount is left in the soil only diminishes further every year. We cannot put three in and expect the results of the full 90. The more nutrients soil contains, the moister it stays, reducing erosion and giving plants the full spectrum of nutrients to choose from. Thus, a plant is allowed to reach its full design potential.
Seaponic Farm & Beyond
Continuing Legacy of Maynard Murray
by David Yarrow
Download the original Acres Magazine article - HERE
In 1981, Maynard Murray, then retired in Florida, met OceanGrown's founder, the son of a Mennonite farmer in western Nebraska. That year he had spread sea solids on his wheat field. Surprised at the results, he contacted his fertilizer supplier, Dr. Murray. After high school, OceanGrown's founder had left his parents’ farm to pursue a college degree and professional career. His elderly parents passed the wheat and buffalo farm on to his brother. But, after this brother’s sudden death, the OG founder left his urban career to return to the farm. Wheat grew unevenly on the farm’s rolling Nebraska hills. Fertilizer and topsoil washed off high spots and steep slopes to puddle in hollows. Wheat on upper slopes was thin and weak, while bottom soils grew sturdy stands. He spread Murray’s sea solids on his wheat fields, uncertain what would happen. All of his wheat grew stronger, stouter, fuller heads, and matured earlier. Differences between upland and bottomland were gone, and former bare patches filled in and flourished. The farm included a small herd of 35 buffalo. He noticed right away that the buffalo preferred sea solids to regular salt blocks and that they chose sea-fed over chemically fertilized crops for feed. Buffalo were a tourist attraction and a significant source of extra income, drawing steady streams of guests to observe this indigenous American herbivore. Visitors were frequently disappointed, however, because the herd stayed far from the fence and were hard to see. Tourists found it unrewarding to admire tiny brown specks half a mile away. Remembering Murray’s cattle experiences, the OG founder devised a solution: he fertilized the fenceline with sea solids. Soon, the herd was congregating along the fence to munch the dark green, vigorous grass growing there. This made the herd happy, and tourists were delighted, as well.
In 1982, Murray invited the founder to buy his 5.5 acre Seaponic Farm in Fort Myers, Florida. His acceptance was timely, for the doctor died soon afterwards, in 1983. In that last year, Murray paid the founder steady visits to offer information and insight gathered over 45 years of research and medical practice. He found that sea solid dilutions gave the highest yields and made fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides unnecessary, since its nutrients are complete, allowing plants to resist disease and insects. Nutrients were measurably higher in sea solid grown foods, and blind taste tests proved them favorites. Fruit trees responded enthusiastically to sea solid feedings. Since it grows without synthetic chemicals, OceanGrown’s produce is certified organic, and his few intensive acres supply international organic wholesalers. However, the founder believes that seaponics is beyond organic, since organic methods alone do not insure all the essential elements. Seaponics is ideal for areas where soils are rain-leached and depleted, such as in south Florida.
AMERICA DOESN’T GET IT
OceanGrown's founder tried to tell others about the tremendous success that sea solids gave him, but found that almost no one cared to listen. One grower asked for help with his dying citrus orchard. He delivered a series of sea solid soil treatments over the next year, and the citrus decline vanished. But the founder heard nothing further from other farmers. “America just doesn’t get it,” he lamented. “I’ve tried for 25 years to make the case for sea solid fertilizers and more natural, balanced methods. But Americans aren’t ready to hear the truth, because the chemical-pharmaceutical-petroleum industry has too tight a grip on all the markets and on everyone’s thinking.” Determined to pursue his work with sea solids, OceanGrown's founder decided to look elsewhere for collaborators in research. He decided to go where the need is greatest, and began negotiations with Haiti to transfer his sea solid hydroponics to this Caribbean island nation. With overpopulation, widespread poverty and unemployment, limited arable farmland, and significant hunger and malnutrition, Haiti was in desperate need of an intensive food growing system. He was able to negotiate with Gulf Coast University to collaborate on his Haiti hydroponics project. The university agreed to provide technical support, training, scientific design, research protocols, and documentation and publishing support.
Imagine that seawater — a resource so abundant that it’s nearly free — is just what soils need to grow healthy plants. Three-quarters of Earth’s surface is ocean. Something so ordinary, so freely available, is also so effective as a balanced fertilizer, and so fundamental and essential for health. Such a simple idea — yet it seems to work. Wonderfully. But how can money be made from a resource so cheap and available? Unless a business can control its product and price, survival in the marketplace is short-lived. Enterprise can’t turn a profit selling a natural resource beyond the ownership boundaries of any nation, yet an industry is needed to convert seawater into a agricultural product usable on a large scale. In the 1980s, the reality was that American markets for farm supplies were already owned and controlled by a few companies that manufacture chemicals for fertilizers, and most of these, in turn, are owned or controlled by oil companies and their subsidiaries. The result of this extreme level of concentrated corporate control and vertical consolidation is that farmers sometimes seem to have no alternatives to buying bags and tanks of synthetic chemicals. Research and education services are usually financed to investigate and encourage chemical industry approaches. Such well-established, deeply entrenched companies have too many vested interests to give up their control of consensus over farm technology, training and extension. Any idea or effort for alternatives to the chemical mindset is lost or smothered by the weight of consensus to keep doing things the same sure way. Innovative ideas are weeded out and ridiculed without trial or investigation. Today, this chemical mindset is being supplanted by ideas embracing biological, ecological and social dimensions of farm technology. Farmers are now accountable for the impact of their practices on the biosphere. “Cost effectiveness” is giving ground to “sustainability” as a research priority, policy guide and sales slogan. Alternative techniques and products are available to any grower motivated to search for them. Volumes of information are clicks away on the Internet, in every agriculture library, from any bookseller.
David Yarrow is currently involved with the Earth Renewal and Restoration Alliance (TERRA), which has a website at http://www.dyarrow.org/gateway.htm. He can be reached at Turtle EyeLand Sanctuary, 44 Gilligan Road, East Greenbush, New York 12061, phone (518) 477-6100, e-mail <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
Acres U.S.A. is the national journal of sustainable agriculture, standing virtually alone with a real track record — over 30 years of continuous publication. Eash issue is packed full of information eco-consultants regularly charge top dollar for. You’ll be kept up-to-date on all of the news that affects agriculture — regulations, discoveries, research updates, organic certification issues, and more.