Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Fertilisers from Air Improve Food Crops

The Singapore Straits Times paper has an interesting article on August 3 2009 that looks at global food production. A recent recurring theme in Singapore is that suddenly they seem to have realised that they produce so little of their own food – about 5%or so overall, although in some sectors they are planning increases to around 15% over the next 5 years.

The article is by Thomas Hager, author of the recent and well received book The Alchemy of Air, an examination of the history and analysis of the Haber-Bosch reaction that produces nitrogen fertiliser from air nitrogen.

While credit is given to modern genetics and the agricultural scientists that were instrumental in developing and then widely disseminating – “the green revolution” with highly productive varieties of a range of crops, cheap nitrogen from air does have a lot to do with enhanced agricultural productivity, world wide.

And if food production is up around the world, is that why the world is getting fatter? The reason we are not all starving today could be adduced as the result of the combination of these two factors – with the cheap nitrogen factor a very key issue. Without that nitrogen, the productivity of modern crops and modern varieties would be much lower.

Naysayers decry use of inorganic fertilisers – we should all be producing organically grown food crops. But productivity would be much lower. Yields can be driven with nitrogen even in organic crops. But........nitrogen from the air........is not that natural too? Even if helped along a bit.
Sure excess nitrogen can be a pollutant......but without that nitrogen in fertiliser we might all be starving.

The book has received excellent reviews, and no I have not read it so far. But have a read of the article and there are some excellent book reviews too. See more here:www.thomashager.net/index.htm

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