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Nitrogen pollution to be the new focus of Obama ag policy?

January 27, 2009

Some comments here on the possible direction the Obama administration will go when setting ag policy.

And while the focus typically is on carbon when the discussion turns to climate change, the Purdue ag economist believes agriculture needs to be more concerned with a EPA report on nitrogen.

“And the issue there is not only excess nitrogen that is used around the world for crops and other things that get into the water supply, but a lot of this nitrogen goes in to the atmosphere as a greenhouse gas that is literally hundreds of times more potent than CO2.” Doering said. “Watch for nitrogen that’s a big one for agriculture and it’s coming down the pike.”

Funny thing about all that nitrogen. It only began to be used heavily after the end of WW2 left huge stockpiles of ammonium nitrate explosives, and the government wanted a new use for it to keep those plants running. So they promoted it’s use everywhere, breaking the long standing cycles of crop rotation on the farm. Don’t believe me, I can’t make this stuff up…

The great turning point in the modern history of corn, which in turn marks a key turning point in the industrialization of our food, can be dated with some precision to the day in 1947 when the huge munitions plant at Muscle Shoals, Alabama, switched over from making explosives to making chemical fertilizer. After World War II, the government had found itself with a tremendous surplus of ammonium nitrate, the principal ingredient in the making of explosives. Ammonium nitrate also happens to be an excellent source of nitrogen for plants. Serious thought was given to spraying America’s forests with the surplus chemical, to help the timber industry. But agronomists in the Department of Agriculture had a better idea: spread the ammonium nitrate on farmland as fertilizer. The chemical fertilizer industry (along with that of pesticides, which are based on the poison gases developed for war) is the product of the government’s effort to convert its war machine to peacetime purposes. As the Indian farmer activist Vandana Shiva says in her speeches, “We’re still eating the leftovers of World War II.”

I wonder if they’ll take credit for this while penalizing us for merely following their recommendations?


From → Food Policy

  1. Pylades permalink

    So how hard would you be hit by this?
    Sounds like yet another case of unintended consequences. What a surprise.

  2. Vines & Cattle permalink

    Thanks to the 300% price spikes in fertilizer last year, we’ve been working on ways to get back to a more natural system with more rotation and less fertilizer use. Still, it’s a big chunk of my expenses. As for the unintended consequences, is it ever a surprise?

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