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Farms around the world are dependent on phosphorus. That’s a problem


Scientists have shown The phosphorus cycle is “broken” for more than a decade: Humanity has unearthed large quantities of this element, which washes away with streams of water instead of returning to arable land.

The problem comes down to crap. Humans and livestock eat the crops and as a result excrete phosphorus. (A University of Iowa researcher calculated that the state’s cattle produce about the same amount of manure as a nation’s cattle. 168 million people.) But most of it won’t become food for plants anymore. Waste treatment can turn sludge or manure back into fertilizer, but transporting and disposing of this waste is often impractical, so waste may end up in the water. stockpiles and “dry warehouses” without the opportunity to promote another crop.

Or the system could leak: Sewage, septic tanks, stockpiles, and eroded soils drip phosphorus into oceans and rivers, where it dissolves into oblivion and degrades ecosystems. that attitude. For example, phosphorus runoff promotes harmful algal blooms that have killed Florida’s seagrasses, starve thousands of manatees.

Demay’s model determined that over a 67-year period, humans pumped almost billion tons non-renewable phosphorus into the food system. Her group’s data is taken from statistics from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Global data, broken down by country, reported agricultural production—such as the amount of wheat grown, or the number of pigs and cows—for 1961 to 2017. (Data 1950 through). 1961 came from is different datasets.)

Her team also broke down usage trends. In 2017, the dependence of Western Europe, North America, and Asia increased to nearly 60% of the total crop-ready phosphorus available in each region’s soil. Brazil, China and India are rapidly increasing their usage by 61, 74 and 67% respectively. The French and Dutch numbers are no longer increasing, because they have replace some use phosphate rock with manure; now they sit at about 70 and 50 percent. However, in African countries like Zimbabwe, the soil lacks phosphorus Limit crop yield. Demay’s estimates mineral fertilizer use in Zimbabwe in the 20 to 30% range, even lower than the 32% average for the whole of Africa.

For Elser, this sheds light on global inequality: Poor countries have much less access to fertilizer, despite needing more. And wealthy nations have been able to accumulate reserves from rock reserves for decades, while nations struggling with food security cannot afford to do the same.

This raises concerns about who will control the future of fertilizers. Nearly 75% of the world’s supply is in mines in Morocco and Western Sahara. Economists get nervous when a good is in the hands of a powerful few. (OPEC controls almost the same part of the world’s oil, but with 13 Member States.)

And it’s not entirely clear how long the supply will last. In 2009, Cordell estimated that the global “highest phosphorus” moment could occur right after 2030, would leave 50 to 100 years of depleted reserves. Today, she and Elser agree that the peak is likely to come later, although it’s difficult to predict when, because demand could soar for other uses, as lithium iron phosphate battery. Elser notes that the new analysis currently puts the maximum supply at around 300 to 400 years.

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