Nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium are the main ingredients of inorganic fertilizer. Nitrogen is an essential building block of plant, animal and human growth. When used in excess, nitrogen causes toxic overload in air and water supplies and changes natural ecosystems. Organic fertilizers are derived from natural sources and contain all 17 nutrients essential for creating life processes without harming air, water or humans.
Inorganic fertilizer is made by converting nitrogen in the air into liquid ammonia. Its inventor, Fritz Haber, also invented chemical warfare and personally directed the first gas attack on British and French soldiers in World War I. Production of synthetic nitrogen was inexpensive and profitable during that time. The product was promoted worldwide as a solution to hunger, but is now held responsible for global toxic nitrogen overload.
The excessive nitrogen introduced by inorganic fertilizer throws off the balance of natural ecosystems. Stuart Weiss, a Menlo Park, California ecologist, says that nitrogen is “altering natural habitats by driving out native plants and the animals that rely on them.”
Excessive nitrogen in soil leaches out other necessary nutrients and eventually causes soil infertility. Use of organic fertilizers increases soil fertility by supporting natural nutrient balance while feeding the microorganisms that produce food nutrients.
Researchers in the United Kingdom and the United States have found that applying nitrogen fertilizer to grasslands enables a few nitrogen-responsive grass species to dominate, while others disappear, according a World Resources Institute report on nitrogen overload. Inorganic fertilizer use, in combination with emissions pollution, allows non-native plants to overtake local species. In contrast, the nitrogen in organic fertilizer is absorbed by plants only as it is needed in the natural nutrient uptake cycle.
Global Nitrogen Glut
“Humans have greatly changed nitrogen dynamics worldwide,” says scientist Peter Vitousek. The inorganic fertilizer industry is the major source of nitrogen overload and the consequent destruction of natural ecosystems, acccording to WRI. Coastal rivers in northeastern United States receive as much as 20 times the natural amount of nitrogen, reports the WRI, and nitrate levels in some Norwegian lakes have doubled in the last decade.
Organic fertilizers do not contribute to the global toxic pollution problems that destroy life. As well, scientific studies are beginning to show the health benefits of organic food. A 2007 study at the University of California at Davis reported that tomatoes grown using organic soil improvement methods have 79 percent more flavinoids than those grown on non-organic soil. Flavinoids are part of anti-oxidant development, which is important to the immune system.