The nitrogen fix.

This excerpt from The Energy of Slaves presents a novel and compelling case for organic or quasi-organic/low-pesticide farming. Quite salient, too, in light of the recent tragedy in West, Texas:

The liberal application of artificial fertilizers made from natural gas (it takes 33,500 cubic feet of methane to make one ton of anhydrous ammonia fertilizer) detonated human population numbers through higher crop yields. […] Today, the Haber-Bosch [nitrogen conversion] process feeds more than one-third of the world’s population and accounts for half the nitrogen in every human body. […] Most vegetables and cereals now contain fewer proteins, minerals, and vitamins than they did one hundred years ago. Researchers suspect that the speed of plants’ growth has diluted their uptake of good nutrients. Highly fertilized crops have also compromised the world’s nitrogen cycle. Every year the planting of legumes, the spraying of fertilizers, and the release of nitrogen oxides from tractors and other combustion engines converts more nitrogen into reactive forms than is created by Mother Nature. Crops take up only 30 percent of the applied fertilizer, and the rest washes away. Scientists estimate that modern farming is leaking three times more nitrogen into the oceans, waterways, and atmosphere than they can absorb. This toxic leakage contaminates groundwater with nitrates and creates dead zones in oceans, lakes, and rivers. The doubling of fixed nitrogen has worsened the greenhouse effect, weakened the ozone layer, thickened smog layers, intensified acid rain, and poisoned vast expanses of water […] with blooms of nitrogen-loving creatures that gobble up oxygen supplies. Evan D.G. Fraser and Andrew Rimas, the authors of Empires of Food, note that the Haber-Bosch process “swapped out dependence on nitrogen for a dependency on the process to make nitrogen, which like so many elements of the modern world, is entirely reliant on fossil fuels.” (70-71)

From: Nikiforuk, Andrew. The Energy of Slaves: Oil and the New Servitude. Madeira Park, BC: Douglas & McIntyre, 2012. EPUB file.