In­ten­sive farm­ing in the trop­ics could re­quire huge phos­pho­rus 'tax'

Stanstead Journal - - AROUND TOWN - Univer­sity of Ver­mont, VT Vic­to­ria Vanier

From the Ama­zon to Africa, trop­i­cal re­gions are widely ex­pected to play a grow­ing role in sup­ply­ing food to the world. With global pop­u­la­tion on the rise, many pol­icy ex­perts and con­ser­va­tion­ists see agri­cul­tural in­ten­si­fi­ca­tion as a win­ning strat­egy to pro­duce more food per acre while spar­ing trop­i­cal forests from be­ing con­verted to farm­land. Just pour on the fer­til­izer.

But a new study in Na­ture Plants raises a grave concern: if trop­i­cal coun­tries try to meet ris­ing global de­mand for food by turn­ing to in­ten­sive farm­ing tech­niques, it will re­quire vast amounts of phos­pho­rus fer­til­izer--which must be mined from phos­phate rock, a lim­ited nat­u­ral re­source.

"In some parts of the trop­ics, for every ton of phos­pho­rus har­vested in food, you have to do­nate one ton to the soil," said Eric Roy, a sci­en­tist at the Univer­sity of Ver­mont who led the new study. "We call that the phos­pho­rus tax."

This tax hap­pens not only be­cause phos­pho­rus is nat­u­rally low in many trop­i­cal soils, but also be­cause these soils tend to bind phos­pho­rus fer­til­izer, mak­ing less of it avail­able to crops than soils in many tem­per­ate re­gions of the world, like North Amer­ica and Europe. Dou­bled by 2050

The first-of-its-kind study es­ti­mates that to in­ten­sify crop pro­duc­tion on farms atop phos­pho­rus-bind­ing soils world­wide would re­quire pay­ing a phos­pho­rus tax equal to as

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The next lo­cal sale of feeder calves will be on May 5th, and prices are ex­pected to drop a lit­tle more by then. “We hit the peak in 2015 for feeder calves. We knew the prices were where they should be, al­most too good to be true, but they didn’t stay up long enough to re­coup the money beef farm­ers have lost in the last ten years. We will be dis­ap­pointed if prices go down too much,” said Wen­dell Con­nor, a beef farmer in North Hat­ley.

There are fewer beef cat­tle farm­ers in the coun­try than there were be­fore the sit­u­a­tion caused by the mad cow cri­sis be­gan play­ing havoc with the Cana­dian beef sec­tor. “Many farm­ers just got tired of work­ing for noth­ing; a lot of them have dropped out. It was more in­ter­est­ing in 2015, but those prices just didn’t last long enough,” added Mr. Con­ner.

The weather has been fa­vor­able, so far, for the farm­ers. “The ground is still cold but it’s dry and this gives us a chance to get the ground ready for seed­ing. It’s been easy to work in the fields.”

Photo Archives

A beau­ti­ful beef cow from the Ruf farm, in Stanstead.

Photo courtesy

Ris­ing global food de­mand may re­quire vast amounts of phos­pho­rous fer­til­izer, a lim­ited re­source.

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