Morning Sun

U.S. fertilizer shortages finally giving dung a chance

- Amanda Little

Skyrocketi­ng prices for chemical fertilizer­s is creating hardship across the U.S. farmscape — but there’s a silver lining: Manure is making a muchneeded comeback.

Farmers in the U.S. can’t get enough organic waste from pigs, chickens, horses and cattle. As the cost of commercial fertilizer­s tripled in recent months, the demand for manure in major agricultur­al states such as Iowa, Nebraska and Illinois has doubled. Manure is now about 25% cheaper than synthetic fertilizer­s a good enough argument for many farmers to make the switch.

There is much more at stake, though. Pivoting from chemical to organic fertilizer­s can substantia­lly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and toxic runoff from farms, improve water quality, rebuild the failing health of soil that’s been saturated with chemicals for decades and help revive rural economies.

Before World War II, U.S. farmland was mainly fertilized by animal manure, yet by the mid-1900s our increasing­ly industrial­ized crop and livestock operations were creating a severe imbalance in natural nitrogen cycles. Profligate overuse of chemical fertilizer­s in some regions contrasted with mountains of unused animal waste piled up in others. The current trend toward natural fertilizer­s taps into the wisdom of traditiona­l agricultur­e: It recouples livestock and crop production and restores, little by little, a heathier balance of nitrogen in our food systems.

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