What is the difference between chemical fertilizers and organic fertilizers? This is a question we get often. Organic fertilizers and natural fertilizers are increasingly popular for concerned consumers that want to reduce chemical fertilizers and pesticide use in their food.
Chemical fertilizers and the use of chemical fertilizers are commonly used in agriculture. But what are the harmful effects of chemical fertilizers? Is fertilizer bad for the environment? Learn more about why organic fertilizers will transform the way farmers grow food.
What do fertilizers do?
In agriculture, fertilizers are used to protect plants. Fertilizers provide plants with the nutrients they need to grow. Primary plant nutrients are nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. Secondary nutrients are calcium, magnesium and sulphur. Plants get all these from the soil. That means the effects of fertilizers on soil are very positive.
When the soil does not contain sufficient or balanced nutrients, farmers add fertilizer to their fields. The fertilizer, which contains the missing nutrients in the soil, will be used to feed the plants. Fertilizers, whether chemical or biological, are used to improve crop growth because they provide essential nutrients to plants.
What is organic fertilizer?
Organic fertilizers are substances obtained from plant and animal matter.
Organic fertilizers are made of natural substances, such as manure, compost, crushed bones or other dried matter. These fertilizers do not undergo any chemical transformation, contrary to chemical fertilizers.
Organic fertilizers are usually lower in primary nutrients (nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium) than chemical fertilizers. However, they do contain trace elements, which are minor nutrients that plants need in small amounts for growth. However, they do contain trace elements, which are minor nutrients that plants need in small amounts for growth. Contrary to chemical fertilizers, organic fertilizers must first break down in the soil before the nutrients they contain can be absorbed by plants. Organic fertilizers generally have a slower rate of nutrient release than.
Organic fertilizers: Are they safe?
To be certified organic, a food must meet several strict criteria, including having been grown without the use of chemical fertilizers.
Why are organic fertilizers better?
Using organic fertilizers in agriculture has several benefits, including improving soil structure and stimulating biological life in the soil.
Soil structure improvement
Because organic fertilizers must break down in the soil to be absorbed by plants, they feed both the soil and the plant. They can therefore improve the physical properties of the soil.
Adding organic fertilizer can improve soil structure. The condition of the soil structure can affect water circulation, soil aeration and root growth, among other things. These are all aspects that can affect crop yield.
The role of natural fertilizers
Natural fertilizers are made of organic matter. To release their nutrients, they must be broken down by bacteria, fungi and other microorganisms in the soil. Organic fertilizers stimulate biological life in the soil, unlike chemical fertilizers. The organisms that live in the soil play an essential role in the health of crops: they protect plants from certain diseases, help plants extract water from the soil, and so much more.
What is in a chemical fertilizer?
Chemical fertilizers, also known as synthetic fertilizers, are fertilizing substances that are manufactured by various chemical processes or that have undergone a chemical transformation.
Chemical fertilizers contain high concentrations of the three main minerals needed for plant growth: nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus. However, they contain few trace elements.
Unlike organic fertilizers, chemical fertilizers are directly available to plants. Available in liquid or soluble form, these fertilizers are fast-acting, since they do not need to decompose in the soil for the nutrients they contain to be absorbed by the plants.
There are also slow-release chemical fertilizers. These usually take the form of granules that gradually release the nutrients they contain.
What are the disadvantages of chemical fertilizers?
Why is an organic fertilizer better? Using chemical fertilizers in agriculture has some disadvantages, including the fact that they cause soil depletion and are a major source of greenhouse gas emissions.
Chemical fertilizers are directly assimilated by plants and therefore do not need to be broken down by the microorganisms present in the soil. This means that they feed the plants, but not the soil.
Chemical fertilizers can improve crop yields in the short term. However, in the long term, they will damage soil fertility. Industrial agricultural fields can become dependent on fertilizers to ensure optimized yield. This is why many people want to know if fertilizer is bad for the environment.
Greenhouse gas emissions
Chemical fertilizers emit greenhouse gases and are not the same as organic fertilizers.
In fact, according to a Natural Resources Canada report, nearly 8% of Canada’s annual natural gas consumption is attributable to the production of nitrogen fertilizers.
In addition, nitrogen fertilizers release nitrous oxide into the atmosphere when applied to soils. This greenhouse gas emission is up to 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
Are fertilizers bad for the environment?
When used in excess, chemical or biological fertilizers can have adverse effects on the environment, including pollution of waterways.
Over-fertilization causes an excess of nutrients in the soil, which would be at the origin of certain forms of surface water and groundwater pollution. In addition, excess nitrogen and phosphorus in soils would be associated with freshwater eutrophication.
Regardless of the fertilizer type, it is essential to manage it properly.
According to the UN Environment Programme, one way to reduce the use of chemical fertilizers in agriculture is to adopt more holistic approaches to agricultural production. approaches to agricultural production. These approaches take into account all of the factors that can affect soil health.
This is close to the principles of organic agriculture, whereby farmers adopt practices that respect natural cycles that contribute to the maintenance of biodiversity and increase soil fertility—all without resorting to chemical products or genetically modified organisms.
The UN also points out that encouraging healthy consumption choices, including through certification and labelling standards, are other ways to promote organic agriculture.
For example, consumers could choose to purchase certified organic products, such as Kiju organic juices that are certified “Canada Organic,” which support organic agricultural production and the elimination of chemical fertilizers.
- CBC – Nitrous oxide, more harmful to the climate than CO2, increasing in atmosphere, study finds
- Gouvernement du Québec — Agriculture biologique
- Government of Canada – Systèmes de production biologique : listes des substances permises.
- Omafra – Micronutrients – Soil Diagnostics
- Omafra – Soil structure – Soil diagnostics
- ONU : Programme pour l’environnement — Effets des pesticides et des engrais sur l’environnement et la santé
- Organic Federation of Canada (OFC) – Tending your soil life (Organic Science Canada [Magazine – Spring 2022])
- The Canadian Encyclopedia – Fertilizer
- Ressources naturelles Canada — Analyse comparative de l’efficacité énergétique et des émissions de dioxyde de carbone