Friday, November 1, 2013

The Coming Phosphorous Crisis

Chimel posted a link to an interesting program in his comments Wednesday.  Now Chimel, can you translate his beautiful French language for us?  It's a good thing his speech is posted in English at the bottom of his slides!

"Biologist Mohamed Hijri brings to light a farming crisis no one is talking about: We are running out of phosphorus, an essential element that's a key component of DNA and the basis of cellular communication. All roads of this crisis lead back to how we farm -- with chemical fertilizers chock-full of the element, which plants are not efficient at absorbing. One solution? Perhaps … a microscopic mushroom. (Filmed at TEDxUdeM.)
   
Mohamed Hijri studies arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF), seeking to understand the structure, evolution and reproduction of these organisms, which form a symbiotic relationship with plant roots.

Why you should listen to him:
Mohamed Hijri is a professor of biology and a researcher at the plant biology research institute (l'Institut de recherche en biologie végétale) at the Université de Montréal. His work focuses on the most common and widespread symbiotic relationship on earth -- between plant roots and a type of fungi found in the soil called arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF). These fungi improve plant growth by increasing roots' ability to absorb phosphorus, while also boosting resistance to pathogens.

As Hijri points out in his talk, the study of AMF and a deeper understanding of them could have big implications for agriculture and could help divert us from an impending crisis -- that we are quickly running out of phosphorus.

Many would say but yes we have piles of manure and biosolids that could be spread.  I would tell you way too much FGD gypsum has been land filled due to ignorance.  A few of my friends would tell you those piles of manure are loaded with glyphosate and could potentially do as much harm as good.  The few manure tests I've seen for glyphosate would be equivalent to spraying a gallon of RoundUp per acre.  Would you do that?

Weeds are indicators of soil health.  Why are weeds bad?  Dandelions are pretty well gone here in fields but still a pest in lawns and gardens.  Even dandelion are an indicator of soil health.  Radish and other cover crops do a good job unlocking phosphorous and other nutrients from soil.

Google lists many links on the coming phosphorous crisis.  You can read and make your own conclusion but as Chimel points out, this scientist thinks it is real and goes about proving it in the first link of this blog.

Ed Winkle

7 comments:

  1. The video was automatically subtitled into English when I watched it, didn't that happen for you? I would not even try translating from a Canadian accent speaker! ;)

    Mined resources are not renewable by definition, and many don't have much underground reserves, or easily accessible reserves, or high purity reserves, but at least we don't need to worry about potash for a while, there's plenty of it in Earth's crust. And mining is not the only source, the early Pioneers used to manufacture it when deforesting the new lands for agriculture, by leaching wood ashes into water to get potash. Sustainable, especially if you use corn stalks instead of wood, which should produce potash too, but not very green with all the carbon dioxide produced by the combustion process. And you'd still need more potash in the field than just from the stalks.

    By the way, talking about mineral resources and knowing your interest about gypsum, I found something interesting that reinforces my interest in solar energy desalination: When reduced down to about a tenth of its volume, the first salt to crystallize in seawater is gypsum, then followed by sea salt and magnesium chloride, the delicate non-salty "nigari" flakes used to coagulate soymilk into tofu, or as a liquid foliar spray for magnesium-deficient plants. Sounds like seawater could be the next sustainable and green source of gypsum once coal power plants are phased out and this source of gypsum disappears. Mined gypsum seems to contain impurities such as heavy metals that make clean gypsum more expensive to produce. Imagine that, fresh water for irrigation, gypsum for calcium, salt for cooking and deicing roads, maybe some extra electricity, and reducing sea levels, all from one single process! A big pipeline full of fresh water going straight from the ocean to your field! How many years do you say before we see it a reality? When irrigation makes all the difference in a drought year between a 25 bushel corn yield and 250 bushels, we can get rid of most crop insurance policies and the savings alone would allow to build such a network of water pipelines. Las Vegas would at last be able to have local farms around it instead of importing all of its food hundreds and thousands miles away.

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  2. We just saw that where they were making sea salt on a bay south of San Francisco. It was on America's Heartland, a program I DVR. It takes five years for the process to take place. The demand for sea salt in food products has risen dramatically. Didn't the industry go to iodized salt because of goiter? I am going to have to look that up.

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  3. I don't know what should take 5 years, building the ponds? These ponds are watered and harvested every day during summer, it probably takes only a few days for the brine to concentrate enough through the successive ponds until the final pond where salt and the fleur-de-sel fine crust is harvested. The latter has more of that "nigari" magnesium in it than normal salt crystals, so it is more delicate and a bit less salty.

    That's the problem I have with iodized salt, the real cause is not goiter, it is that our diets don't include enough seafood, like fish, shellfish or seaweed, or other nutrients and vitamins for other kinds of "fortified" milk or flour or cereals. I'd rather promote more fish, starting maybe with a Fish Friday at school, than eat chemical additives. Who knows what else besides iodine we are missing by not eating enough seafood? Fish has phosphorus for the brain too, or so said my grand-ma! ;)
    In the early days, salt was iodized with iodide that returned to its gas phase with time, so it was pretty much useless for this medical purpose. It is still the case with some cheap iodized salts (I checked recently at my Safeway), so if you want iodized salt, you can't just rely on that "iodized" label, you need to do your homework and check that it contains stable iodate (potassium or sodium) and not iodide. That's obviously a pain in the neck, so I use only plain sea salt, and seafood about twice a week. Mostly farmed, but we also have relatively cheap ($5-
    6/lb) Oregon wild "shrimp meat" here, that is great for soups, salads and rice dishes.

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  4. Five years for the salt to crystallize under those conditions is what I understood but who knows? It was an interesting piece.

    You have me wondering, how much iodized salt do we need in our diets?

    Ed

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  5. Oh no, they let the ocean in twice a day in Brittany, at each tide, it takes only a matter of days to trickle down from the low concentration ponds to the higher concentration ponds, they collect the fleur-de-sel crust every evening, the salt crystals during the day. It's a short 3-month season there in this temperate region, I'd expect San Francisco's salt to crystallize even faster.

    That question needs to be split in 2 really, the needs for salt and iodine are separate. That's why I hate these fortified foods where you can't control one quantity without impacting the other. A bit like this Cajun seasoning, you can't get your food hotter without getting it saltier.

    As for iodine, unless you eat only the food you grow and you live in a region with a soil poor in iodine and you don't add it as a micronutrient to the soil, we should get plenty of it as normal adults eating diverse food grown all over the world. One baked potato with skin, one boiled egg and one yogurt gets you more than your daily value. Now you know why pregnant women crave for strawberries, which contains some. The U.S. actually runs a higher risk of hyperthyroidism than goiter: "Some countries, like the U.S., show risk from excess iodine intake which suggests over consumption of foods fortified in iodine, like salt."
    Read more at http://www.healthaliciousness.com/articles/natural-foods-high-in-iodine.php#XdtoOT1BgCofzxm7.99

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