Fertilizing Pastures- Natural Vs Chemical
Before moving to into comparative standards between natural and chemical fertilizers it is first important to develop a clear understanding regarding the fundamentals of a fertilizer. Fertilizers are basically chemical substances that provide and enrich the soil with the nutrients that are intrinsic and are of integral importance as far as their growth and development are concerned.
In addition to this fertilizers also play a pivotal role in increasing crop yield and production along with the quality of food that is being obtained from them. Fertilizers actually increase all these factors with the help of supplying essential nutrients to the crops which include nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium.
These three elements are considered as the macronutrients required for effective plant and crop growth and every fertilizer whether natural or artificial intends to increase the proportion of these macronutrients in the soil to achieve the desired objectives.
During the course of this discussion we would be assessing the different pros and cons of natural as well as chemical fertilizers that are applied on soil for their enrichment. In addition to this we would also be looking at the different ways in which these fertilizers are used and applied to the soil and the subsequent effects that they create.
Organic or natural Fertilizers
Organic and natural fertilizers comprise of naturally occurring organic materials which include manure, worm castings, compost, seaweed and guano. Along with this sometimes substances such as saltpeter re also used as a source of fertilizing the soil.
Some of the major and key sources of organic fertilizers include animal sourced urea which is a suitable source for organic agriculture. The usage of animal dung and waste is an economical way of obtaining natural fertilizer and at the same time it also ensures effective yield as urine contains large amounts of phosphorous. (Collings, 1955)
This is also beneficial in the way as the artificial sources of extracting phosphorus are undergoing rapid depletion. Another prominent source of natural fertilizers is through plants which are leguminous. These types of plants intend to enrich soil content by conducting the nitrogen fixation process from the atmosphere. With greater availability of nitrogen plants and crops are able to undergo greater growth and development due to the high rate of protein being provided to them.
Along with these leguminous plants also help in providing substantial amounts of phosphorous. Apart from these some minerals are also good sources of natural fertilizers which contain powdered limestone, rock phosphate and sodium nitrate which are highly effective as far as their usage in organic agriculture is concerned.
Once we are done with the sources which are helpful in the extraction of organic fertilizers we can now move towards the benefits that are provided by this category. One of the key advantages of using natural fertilizers is the benefits that are obtained by their usage in the enrichment of biodiversity which is further facilitated by the long-term productivity of soil. Furthermore the enrichment of flora and fauna in the particular region is also manifested in the form of greater reserves and deposits of carbon dioxide that resides in the soil and thus serves as a storehouse for greater respiration and photosynthesis to take place.
Through the use of organic fertilizers the availability of organic matter to plants and crops is also enhanced primarily through the sources of fungal mycorrhiza which help in the absorption of nitrogen and at the same time can also reduce external and harmful intervention of pesticides and energy at the cost of decreased yield. (Kaarstad, 1999)
However despite of all these advantages the use of organic fertilizers is also accompanied with some harmful effects that it has upon sold fertility and crop yields. In cases when organic fertilizers are not composted there is high probability that they may contain harmful pathogens and microorganisms that may pose a serious threat to the growth and yield of crops or even destroy them completely.
Another side effect is the variable percentage and proportion of nitrogen that is provided to plants with the help of these fertilizers. Since the percentage or amount of nitrogen being provided is never fixed or definite it is always skeptical to predict whether the fertilizer is provided to the plant play an effective role in its growth or will affect it adversely.
Moreover because of their bulky weight and immensely large volumes it is always difficult to deploy the right amount of fertilizer to the plant to achieve anticipated and calculated results.
Inorganic or chemical fertilizers
The second prominent category of fertilizer deals with the ones that are chemically or artificially manufactured. One of the most notable ways which is applied in their manufacturing includes the Haber Bosch process, an industrial process through which ammonia is prepared. The ammonia that is manufactured by means of this process is then stored as a feedstock for its usage in nitrogenous fertilizers. In most forms the nitrogen is either used in anhydrous or diluted form such ammonium nitrate and urea. (IGI, 2009)
These are sometimes mixed with water to form concentrated liquid fertilizer. In recent times there has been massive and manifold increase in the usage and production of artificial fertilizers. According to an estimate this increase started to gain momentum over 50 years ago and has now reached an extent where over 100 tones of ammonia is manufactured on annual basis.
Similarly it is worth mentioning here that it is not only the production of nitrogen that has increased but in tandem to this the usage of phosphorus and potassium as fertilizers has also gained substantial pace. This is further manifested by the fact that artificial or chemically manufactured fertilizers today are used in the production and for the enhancement of yield for a number of crops which include maize, barley, corn, rapeseed and sunflower.
According to one of the recent studies that was conducted it was disclosed that the application of chemical fertilizers during offseason helps in increasing the biomass of the crops that will be harvested has a beneficial effect on the nitrogen levels of soil for the main crops that will be planted in the main season.
Furthermore assessments and studies have also proved that inorganic or artificial fertilizers are also faster in terms of performance than natural ones. The faster rate of artificial fertilizers is also made possible by the preparation, manufacturing and incorporation of genetically modified organisms through which organisms belonging to different plant species each with a single positive quality are cross bred together.
For instance if a particular specie of wheat possesses good color and the other species is high yielding then by cross-breeding the two genetic strains of wheat the hybrid obtained will possess both qualities and hence the both purposes and objectives would be fulfilled.
On the flip side apart from the advantages there are also a number of disadvantages that are related with artificial fertilizers. One of the prime problems in this context is the depletion of trace minerals. Many inorganic fertilizers when applied when applied to soil may not fulfill the depletion of the particular trace element for the fulfillment and compensation of which it is being supplied.
Studies have also proved that when artificial chemical fertilizers are applied to such crops the level of such trace elements in the crops falls to around 75%. Second major problem is that the precise quantity of the fertilizer that needs to be applied to the soil is difficult to determine and hence the issue of over fertilization may become detrimental to the concerned crop. (Institute of rice Res, 1987)
The phenomenon when too much fertilizer is applied is known as fertilizer burn and it may also cause the death of the plant. Another looming issue with the use and application of chemical fertilizers is their long-term sustainability. Most of the raw materials that are obtained for the manufacturing and the industrial application of such fertilizers are dependent upon materials such as potassium and phosphorus.
These are primarily extracted from saline lakes and therefore because if their non-renewability their extraction cannot be continued on sustainable basis. Similarly other raw material such as natural gas which plays a pivotal role in the industrial preparation of ammonia and this is also undergoing rampant depletion.
A comparison of both
It is difficult to have a completely bifurcated and transparent set of rules through which we can easily label one as bad and the other one as good. There are certain effective features that are related to each one of them. But in some respects which have fundamental and pervasive role to play as far as the effectiveness and its assessment are concerned are lacked by natural fertilizers.
Since these fertilizers are naturally extracted and obtained their solubility and nutrient content are lower than inorganic fertilizers, but once said it is also important to mention that there are a number of aspects and standards which are not fulfilled by inorganic fertilizers, hence each type of fertilizer category has its own pros and cons. Likewise organic nutrients because of their availability in natural resources can easily be obtained to plants.
Organic ones are mainly classified as ‘slow-release’ fertilizers and do not cause any type of nitrogen burn. Hence the effectivity of each type of fertilizer is dependent upon the viability and convenience that it offers. (Hassan, 2007)