How agriculture standardized on chemical fertilizers

Ammonium nitrate bagIt’s indisputable that there have been major technological advances in the medical field over the past century. At the same time, radical changes in how commercial farmland is fertilized have transformed a significant portion of the food supply into products that are far less nutritious than what our ancestors consumed several generations ago.

“You can trace every sickness, every disease, and every ailment to a mineral deficiency.”
– Dr. Linus Pauling, two-time Nobel Prize winner

In olden times, it was common practice to fertilize farmland using organic materials such as manure. Crop-growing followed a standard methodology that repeated year-after-year. Nature provided micro-organisms and nutrients in the soil that were readily absorbed by the roots of the crops. Vegetables, fruits, herbs, and grains were rich with flavor and endowed with natural forms of essential vitamins and minerals.

During the 19th century, European scientists figured out that nitrogen plays a fundamental role in plant growth. When German chemist Fritz Haber discovered how to synthetically make plant-available nitrate from air in 1909, that discovery began to peck away at the organic underpinnings of conventional farming. The deployment of chemical fertilizers leveled off for a few decades and then accelerated during and after World War II.

Nitrogen is one of the primary ingredients used to make TNT and other explosives. During the 1930s, the United States government spent millions of dollars in research expenditures to determine how to produce nitrogen from the air we breathe. Because the manufacturing process requires extensive amounts of electricity, some of the early plants were built near hydroelectric dams created by the Tennessee Valley Authority. The nitrogen that was produced took the chemical form of ammonia.

When World War II started, the federal government built 10 plants to produce ammonia for munitions. Several plants were built next to natural gas pipelines so the gas could be used as raw material for production. By the end of the war, some 730,000 tons of ammonia were being produced annually, while the plants had a combined capacity of 1.6 million tons.

At war’s end, ammonia was no longer needed to make bombs. With the government’s large inventory and capacity to produce nitrogen-rich ammonia, a decision was made to use it to fertilize the nation’s crops. The following chart displays the rapid growth in the use of commercial fertilizers after 1940.

While ammonium nitrate fertilizers maximize yields, they also disrupt and sever the natural sulfur cycle that circulates the mineral from the soil to the roots of the crops. In addition, over-farming, clear-cutting forests to create more farmland, and the removal of topsoil have further depleted various trace minerals that are needed for optimal health. Moreover, applying artificial pesticides and herbicides serves to kill off micro-organisms needed to convert the remaining soil minerals into usable forms. When you factor in all the food processing that is commonplace today, what’s left is a product that is largely devoid of nutrition and is a contributing factor to today’s health crisis.

In a report entitled “Postwar Fertilizer Explodes,” modern science tells us that growing plants need at least 16 nutrients to be healthy.

• Primary nutrients are nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, known by the chemical symbols of N, P and K.
• Secondary nutrients are calcium, magnesium and sulfur.
• Micronutrients include boron, chlorine, copper, iron, manganese, molybdenum and zinc.
• Other nutrients that are easily available in the environment include carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. These last three do not need to be supplied by fertilizers.

As described by natural health advocate Tony Isaacs in his Natural News article, “Our Disappearing Minerals and Their Vital Health Role (Part 1)“,

Thanks to the extended use of fertilizers and “maximum yield” mass farming methods, the soil in the North American continent has had an average of 85% mineral depletion over the past 100 years — the worst of any other country in the world.

Below are several disturbing statistics published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in its report called, “Chronic Diseases: The Leading Causes of Death and Disability in the United States.”

• As of 2012, about 117 million adults experienced one or more chronic health conditions such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and arthritis.
• During 2009–2010, more than one-third of adults (about 78 million people) were obese. During that same time period, about 20 percent of all youths aged 2–19 years were considered obese.
• 22 million adults state that they have problems with their usual activities because they suffer from arthritis.
• Diabetes is the leading cause of kidney failure and new cases of blindness among adults.

As reported in Harley Pasternak’s article published on People | Great Ideas, Mexico ranks as the most obese major nation in the world, followed by the United States. As other nations adopt American eating habits and sedentary lifestyle, the incidence of obesity has more than doubled since 1980.

A century ago, the average life expectancy in Europe was under 50 years, whereas, a more recent survey by the United Nations estimates the average life span for the same region as 78 years. On page 11 of the SCA Group’s Hygiene Matters report for 2008, diseases caused by poor hygiene – not unhealthy food – was listed as the main reason why life expectancy was decidedly lower at the turn of the 20th century.


Our Disappearing Minerals and Their Vital Health Role (Part 1)
by: Tony Isaacs | Natural News
May 14, 2008

A Brief History of Our Deadly Addiction to Nitrogen Fertilizer
Tom Philpott | Mother Jones
Apr 19, 2013 6:00 AM

Farming in the 1950s & 60s
Living History Farm – York, Nebraska

Harley Pasternak: Why the U.S. Is the Second-Most Obese Nation in the World
People | GreatIdeas
Feb 18, 2015

U.S.: 5% of World Population; 80% of Opioid Consumption
Dec 15, 2014

Chronic Diseases: The Leading Causes of Death and Disability in the United States
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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