Environmental Benefits

of Using Fertilizers

The rock above is resting on what used to be the soil surface. This banana field is acidic and has multiple nutrient deficiencies. As a result, the plants never grew properly and left the soil exposed to the rain. Over the years, more than eight inches of topsoil have been lost. The poor fertility resulted in the loss of topsoil, which makes the field less fertile, which causes poor growth, which exposes more soil to erosion; a cycle which ends with the land becoming totally unproductive. A balanced fertilization program not only would have prevented the erosion problem, but would have also produced high yields and increased profits.


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There is a lot of misinformation on the effect of fertilizer use on the environment. While there are some problems to be solved, it should be pointed out that balanced fertilization has had a tremendous positive effect on our environment.

Probably the most important contribution that fertilizers have made to the environment is in preserving wildlife habitat. Fertilizer use has allowed farmers to continuously achieve high yields on the same land for many years, eliminating the need for clearing new lands.

In many situations where fertilizers are not used, farmers have resorted to slash-and-burn agriculture. They clear a new area of forest and can only farm for two or three crops as the land quickly becomes unproductive. They then move on to a new area of forest, leaving the previous one bare and exposed to erosion. In contrast, plots at Rothhamsted Experimental Station in England have been receiving commercial fertilizers since 1843 and are more productive today than any time in the past. Similar results are being obtained from the plots established in 1876 by the University of Illinois.

Balanced fertilization is also an important tool in fighting erosion.

The photograph above shows the benefit of using balanced fertilization. On the left of the field, the properly fertilized sugarcane is growing much faster than the improperly treated portion on the right. As a result, the crop on the left covers the soil faster and protects it from direct exposure to the rain, thereby reducing erosion. It also shades out weeds more effectively, reducing the need for herbicides. The crop on the left also leaves more residue after harvest, increasing the organic matter content of the soil as well as effectively reducing runoff of water.