You know that times are changing when farmers look to manure as a valuable commodity. Pretty soon, manure from a herd may be more profitable than the beef itself. Manufactured fertilizers has tripled in price in the last year, driving farmers to look for alternatives. This is certainly an indicator of a shifting economy.
1. Energy Prices
Fertilizers are a very energy intensive product. Nitrogen fertilizers are commonly made from petroleum or natural gas. The potash and phosphates in the fertilizers are derived from mining, which also requires a lot of energy. Finally, the finished product needs to be transported and we know all about high gas prices.
2. Fertilizer Demand in China and India
3. Bans on U.S. Beef
In December, 2003 the U.S. beef export market saw a steep decline. Mexico, Canada, Japan, and Korea comprise over 90% of the beef export market in the U.S., with all countries significantly reducing beef imports in 2004. Japan was the single largest importer of beef and their ban on U.S. beef continues. This is driving cattle farmers to find other valuable uses for their cows, such as fertilizer.
A decreased reliance on manufactured fertilizers and a return to more traditional farming techniques could have its benefits. Algal blooms caused by chemical fertilizers, like the one in the Mississippi delta can harm fish populations. Fertilizers frequently find their way into ground water, thus contaminating drinking water supplies.
The farming industry has been undergoing significant changes from the rise in biofuels, leases for wind farms, and recent scares over food safety. Now some farmers are returning to more traditional methods, such as the use of manure. It makes me wonder, what is next?