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Fears over fertiliser

Diminishing phosphorus reserves could spell disaster for non-organic wheat yields, new research suggests. The price of the mineral, widely used as fertiliser, has increased by 500 per cent in the past two years as world demand of 125 million tonnes per year eats into the estimated reserves of 4-8 billion tonnes. Research by the UK's University of Newcastle, as part of the European Union's Quality Low Input Food Programme, shows that non-organic wheat yields could plummet from an average of nine tonnes per hectare (t/ha) to just four t/ha by 2040, and could even fall as low as 2.5 t/ha. Researchers found organic wheat, grown without chemical fertilisers, yielded six t/ha.

The UK's leading organic lobby group, the Soil Association, said that when phosphate reserves eventually run out, one solution could be for farmers to use human waste as fertiliser as an alternative source of phosphorus (see Human fertiliser - closing the nutrient loop).

Date published: January 2009

 

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