Organic fertilizer: Absorbing carbon on the soil

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Organic fertilizer: Absorbing carbon on the soil

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Organic fertilizer: Absorbing carbon on the soil

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Organic fertilizers are suitable for plant growth and can help slow down climate change by trapping carbon.
    • Author:
    • Author name
      Quantumrun Foresight
    • September 13, 2022

    Post text

    Organic fertilizers (OFs) have become popular for many agriculturalists because they can foster healthier plants and soils. In addition, these natural fertilizers are more sustainable and can help companies improve their environmental footprint.

    Organic fertilizer context

    Organic fertilizers (OFs) use recycled nutrients, increase soil carbon, and help mitigate climate change. Organic fertilizers are made of plant- and animal-based materials (e.g., compost, earthworms, and manure), while chemical-based fertilizers are made of inorganic materials, like ammonium, phosphates, and chlorides. 

    Organic fertilizers add components to the soil to improve its structure and water retention capacity, which fosters the growth of beneficial microorganisms and earthworms. These fertilizers release nutrients slowly over time, preventing over-fertilization and runoff (when the soil can no longer absorb excess water).

    There are three prominent types of OFs, including: 

    • Organic fertilizers, developed from living organisms like animals and plants,
    • Organo-mineral, combines one inorganic fertilizer with at least two organic ones, and
    • Organic soil improvers, are fertilizers that aim to improve the organic content of the soil. 

    The European Consortium of the Organic-Based Fertilizer Industry highlighted that OFs support the three pillars of the European Commission’s growth strategy, including:

    1. Smart growth - promotes research-based and innovation-driven solutions throughout the agricultural value chain. 
    2. Sustainable growth - contributes to a low-carbon economy. 
    3. Inclusive growth - ensures that this solution is available to rural and urban areas.

    Disruptive impact

    One way that OFs can mitigate climate change is by absorbing carbon stocks (or carbon sequestration). The carbon in soil is stabilized through physical and biochemical processes (like mineralization), resulting in long-term carbon absorption (more than ten years). Some studies have shown that too many OFs can increase greenhouse gas emissions, particularly nitrous oxide (N2O). This greenhouse gas type is more dangerous than carbon dioxide and can be released through soil biochemical processes (e.g., applying manure on fields). However, some research declares that, generally, there are lower greenhouse gas emissions on soil with OFs than with chemical fertilizers. N2O emission is highly dependent on soil conditions and can be challenging to trace.

    Aside from potential N2O emissions, a disadvantage of OFs is that they can take longer to produce results than chemical fertilizers because of the biochemical processes that need to transpire over time. It can also be more challenging to determine how much fertilizer is needed, as different crops require different levels of nutrients. Thus, there might have to be some experiments to mix-and-match plant groups with the appropriate fertilizer. Additionally, OFs can be more expensive than chemical ones because it takes longer to generate natural fertilizers.  

    Implications of organic fertilizers

    Wider implications of OFs may include: 

    • Combining agriculture technology like drones and sensors with natural fertilization methods may increase crop growth.
    • Governments incentivizing farmers to switch to OFs for improved public health and the environment.
    • Increased pressure for farmers to reduce dependencies on chemical fertilizers that can affect manufacturers’ capital and resources.
    • Chemical fertilizer companies branching out to organic fertilizer manufacturing while retaining some chemical-based products or combining organic with chemical components.
    • New forms of organic foods that feature the fact that they were grown using OFs on their packaging.

    Questions to comment on

    • What are the other potential challenges of switching to organic fertilizers?
    • If agriculturalists switch to organic fertilizers and materials, how might farmers deter pests from consuming their crops?

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    Insight references

    The following popular and institutional links were referenced for this insight:

    European Consortium of the Organic-Based Fertilizer Industry Benefits of organic-based fertilizers