The Chemistry of Farming - Book Review

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Sun Apr 22 07:08:41 MDT 2001

>If crops are rotated and the soil is fertilized with compost, animal
>manure and sewage, thereby returning as much fixed nitrogen as possible to
>the soil, it is just possible for a hectare of land to feed 10 people —
>provided they accept a mainly vegetarian diet. Although such farming is
>almost sustainable, it falls far short of the productivity of land that is
>fertilized with 'artificial' nitrogen; this can easily support 40 people,
>and on a varied diet. Of course, 'organic' farming should be encouraged in
>order to recycle compost and dung. But it can never compete with the
>bountiful supply of agrochemical nitrogen, which now meets about 40% of
>the world's dietary needs.

Paddy, the issue is not whether chemical fertilizers can enrich the soil.
By making an issue of this and evading the real issue, the review amounts
to a cover-up. Chemical fertilizers are causing an enormous crisis not so
much on the land, but in the WATER. For example, they leach into the
Mississippi River and end up in the Gulf of Mexico. Everywhere they end up
they speed the growth of algae which undermines fishing beds. This is
elementary ecology. ABC, really. If you are going to proselytize against
the Greens, I only wish you make an attempt to deal with their arguments. 

The Times-Picayune, February 4, 1999 Thursday, ORLEANS 



The Mississippi River is inching upward a bit earlier than usual this year,
and that has some environmentalists and scientists worried about the
effects of the fertilizer-laden runoff on Lake Pontchartrain and the Gulf
of Mexico. 

According to the National Weather Service's Lower Mississippi River
Forecast Center in Slidell, the river was at 12.4 feet in New Orleans on
Wednesday, and should reach 15 feet Feb. 19. 

Hydrologist David Reed said heavy rains two weeks ago in the upper
Mississippi and Ohio river basins, combined with snow melted by
warmer-than-usual temperatures, have made their way to the lower
Mississippi. . .

Still, the river's rise is already enough to cause water to leak into the
spillway, which connects the river with Lake Pontchartrain, and that has
Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation officials worried. A series of long
wooden pins holds back the Mississippi waters at the spillway, but water
leaks between the pins and into the floodway to the lake. As much as 8,000
cubic feet per second of river water can leak through the pins. 

Foundation executive director Carlton Dufrechou said the concern is that
too much river water, rich in nutrients from fertilizers washed off Midwest
farms and from sewage treatment systems in upriver cities and towns, can
spark blooms of algae in the lake. 

In 1997, the spillway opening released huge quantities of river water into
the lake, and the algae blooms caused fish kills and public warnings that
some algae types could be toxic to humans. . .

In 1993, a year of near-record Midwest flooding, the dead zone covered
7,000 square miles of water stretching from the mouth of the river westward
to the Texas border. 

The size of the zone has dropped in recent years, possibly because of
smaller springtime flooding levels. 

But Rabalais said the early river rise could signal trouble. 

"We're predicting a higher production of algae in the Gulf this year,"
Rabalais said, based on the early river rise. "We know the water's cooking
right now." 

Louis Proyect
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