Food and Fertilizer Extraction

mining-industry

Many people forget about the inputs that go into producing their food and the practices that aid in the cultivation of their crops. There are many inputs that go into food production, many of which are fertilizers. Fertilizers place a huge burden on the environment through runoff, improper use, and many other harmful practices. Many people forget about how these fertilizers are produced and the mining practices that are used to extract these fertilizers. Environmental impact starts with extraction.  What are the inputs? What does it take to extract these fertilizers? How much can you extract while minimizing losses? All of these questions play a major role within the food industry that we know today. Phosphorus is one of the most vital inputs to ensure food security, and without it production is lost. How can we assure that future generations will have enough phosphorus to meet their needs?

There is a growing awareness within America that the capitalist way of life is based on a gradual depletion of fossil reserves, specifically phosphorus, which is not infinite. Phosphorus is extracted in a variety of ways. It can be extracted from our waste streams and can be recycled, but we continue to extract phosphorus from nonrenewable phosphate rock reserves. Phosphorus is an essential element for our current and future food security, which has no abundant substitute. We need to start recycling phosphorus in order to sustain the amount of resources that farmers need in order to produce enough food to enrich humanity while focusing on minimizing the environmental and economic impacts. Phosphate reserves are depleting and there is currently a debate in regards to how much remaining phosphate reserves there still are. Some scientists estimate that the reserves vary from several decades to a few hundred years Sustainable Use of Phosphorus. The quality of the remaining reserves is being reduced due to phosphate reserves becoming more difficult to access. While there is a burden on supply, demand is expected to vastly increase Phosphorus Extraction.

Phosphorus is essential to all living organisms. It aids in producing DNA and RNA, as well as ATP.  700 mg of phosphorus is the recommended daily intake for a healthy diet What Is Phosphorus and Why Is It Important. It plays a large role in fertilizer production and food security. It is critical in biological energy transfer processes, which are important for life and sustained growth. Phosphorus fertilizers aid in producing higher yields through improving crop quality, increasing stalk strength, greater root growth, and faster crop maturity Managing Phosphorus for Crop Production. Phosphorus deficiency within crops can lead to the stunting and abnormal discoloration of plants in early developing stages.

Five countries hold 85% of the world’s reserves, including China, Morocco, the United States, South Africa, and Jordan Sustainable Use of Phosphorus. Currently, there is a surplus of phosphorus, which leads to more accumulation in agricultural soils, as well as waste sectors, all of which further impact the environment.  The process of recycling phosphorus can reduce this surplus and leave a burden on the environment. Currently, only abound one-fifth of phosphorus extracted is consumed. There are many losses associated with this form of extraction. Each step from mine to fork has a variety of unsustainable practices. These losses are accumulated in water bodies and a variety of landscapes within exporting countries.

Moving from current phosphorus extractions to more sustainable practices is a difficult process. It will require an integrated approach that keeps in mind, both efficiency and reuse. Improvements have to start at the extraction level by reducing the number of tailings in the mining process Phosphorus Extraction. The production process of phosphorus also needs to be much more sustainable; this can come from improved technology and knowledge within this industry. Agriculture is the last stage but needs the most improvement. This can come through improved mining equipment, recycling, and runoff prevention. Improvements can also be achieved by changing the way we handle waste that contains phosphorus. The recovery of phosphorus from water bodies and waste areas will not only benefits water pollution, but also contribute to the sustainability of the phosphorus industry.

Sustainable phosphorus will soon become essential for global food security. The current reliance on rock extracted phosphorus is far from sustainable. For this industry to become truly sustainable, efficient phosphorus use must approach a level close to 100% in each chain Sustainable Use of Phosphorus. This will take the full recycling of phosphorus at many levels to ensure global food security. Raising public awareness on the scarcity of phosphate reserves, while presenting policy and solutions to the issue, would be the best approach to tackle this issue.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Food and Fertilizer Extraction

  1. amyquandt

    Interesting topic! I agree that often we forget about the costs of the inputs into farming. What are the current practices for ‘sustainable phosphorus’. Are they feasible to scale-up?

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  2. There are currently no practices for sustainable Phosphorus extraction, but there are recycling programs to accumulate some of the losses, that accumulate in waterbodies or soils from the process that take place from mine to fork. The current reserves of phosphorus can last us a good while, which is why these companies continue to extract due to the low cost compared to recycling programs. They are not quite feasible because of the high cost associated with water filtration. Why let phosphorus go to waist? We can reuse it very easily with the correct technology and this needs to happen for future generations sake. We are involved in a multigenerational Ponzi scheme, we are taking resources that are essential future generations survival and are using them without precaution. 😦

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