Monday, May 21, 2007

Organic fertilizers win out over synthetic in long term

(Here is an excellent description of one of the basic differences between organic and 'conventional' farming - the type and use of fertilisers)

By Marilyn Waterman, San Jose Mercury News, May 17

Q: What's the difference between organic and synthetic fertilizers? My neighbor says there is no difference to a plant. Is he right?

A: He is right in a literal way. Molecularly speaking, nitrogen is nitrogen to a plant, regardless of its source - be it the synthetic ingredient, ammonium nitrate (a commercial nitrogen also used in explosives) or, say, bat guano.

But step away from the micro level and there are gaping differences, a few of which I'll tackle here.

Your neighbor, like many of us, has narrow expectations of what a fertilizer is supposed to do. Indeed, the collective mission statement of synthetic fertilizers might read: Feed the plant. But organic fertilizers have much broader marching orders: Nourish the plant by creating a healthy, biologically active soil environment surrounding the roots.

A human analogy might be this: You can get by for quite awhile on a diet of fortified Tang and PowerBars. You can even be amazingly productive. But over the long term these food sources don't do much to create healthy digestive tracts or build up immune systems.