When Vermuyden drained the fens, it created some of the most fertile soils in the world. Some were more than 10 m deep. This cam be mimicked using composted urban wastes.
The UN has a target of raising the organic Carbon content of soils by 4 parts per thousand in order to offset atmospheric Carbon dioxide growth and global warming.
In a short report in “The Auger” (one of the journals of the British Society of Soil Science) the work of Johnson A E, et al. in The European Journal of Soil Science concluding that, using crop production with mineral fertilisers and Nitrogen from legumes, such a target probably could not be achieved.
We have the power and the technology. Do we have the micro components?
Common sense tells us that if we use manufactured mineral fertilisers to produce food, eventually, the soil store of trace elements will decline, followed by a decline in the harvested crop, followed by a decline in the health of th4e crop, followed by a decline in the intake of trace elements by humans, followed by a decline in the health of humans.
This common sense understanding of the loss of micro-nutrients in human diets has been shown many times and, again, recently by a paper on soil Selenium decline by Steve McGrath et al and reported in the current edition of The Auger, journal of the British Society of Soil Science.
Urban waste could, safely, be sufficient fertiliser to feed the people who made the waste in the first place. If we do not do this, soon, then, logically, the human race will die out.
Nearly all we have came from the land and must eventually go back. Nearly all municipal wastes, including sewage, will make good compost and good compost can be used to reclaim the desert and make arid land productive. “Nearly all” does, of course, mean some exceptions such as lead or Cadmium-based batteries. However, many hydrocarbons and plastics are bio-degradable provided the right process and the right bugs are available in the bio-population or can be added. (Mealy bug larvae will live and multiply quite happily on expanded polystyrene.) Sewage is a great source of nutrients and micro-organisms for a successful bio-process. Of course, testing and controls are a necessary part of a professional operation but it really is true that most urban waste scan safely be used to make enough fertiliser to feed the people who made the wastes in the first place. That is sustainability. The challenge is to get the instruments of governments to understand and find a way of constructive regulation. Soon rather than somewhen.
Oh, and by the way, composts will absorb and hold between 5 and 16 times their own weight of water. That might be useful in creating jobs in upland composting in Cumbria, Lancashire, and anywhere in the upland catchment areas for any of our rivers running through urban areas, including London.
“Survival – Sustainable Energy, Wastes, Shale Gas and The Land” by Bill Butterworth, published by Land Research, has just been released and is available in paperback from good bookshops or Amazon on the web as paperback (at around £10) or electronic version (at only £2.46) for computer or Kindle.
“Survival – Sustainable Energy, Wastes, Shale Gas and The Land” is available for free download for the next 5 Sundays starting 15 Jan.
According to UN sponsored research, I tonne of N nutrient, made in a modern, efficient USA fertiliser factory, typically takes 21,000 (yes, twenty one thousand) kWh to manufacture and deliver to farm. Yet, we lose around half to groundwater with rain or irrigation. This will dramatically affect how we farm. Part of the answer is to recycle waste to farm land. How to do this safely, how shale gas will affect the land, how sustainable energy sources can help farming are all reviewed in the book. All these and how the global population will reach crisis, and when, can be downloaded for free on the Sundays 15, 22 and 29 Jan, and 5 and 12 Feb. Control and Click here Survival” by Bill Butterworth Amazon.
There is absolutely no chance of feeding the global human population on agriculture based solely on mineral fertilisers.
The circular economy: 9. Farming loses 70% of the manufactured fertiliser energy consumption
The science: There is much energy in digging up and transporting the basic raw materials to make fertilisers, especially phosphates and potash. We are running low on known phosphate reserves. One tonne of mineral Nitrate nutrient, from a modern comparatively efficient USA factory, takes 21,000 (yes, twenty one thousand) kWh of electricity to make it and it was mostly made by generating electricity by burning fossilised fuels to run and engine. When we get the Nitrogen onto the crop, rainfall and irrigation will lose maybe half.
The bad news: Modern food production has been built around mineral fertilisers. The concept of feeding 11 billion (if the UN estimate is right) using this technology is just not tenable.
The good news: Not only is it possible to produce good, safe food, better for human health, without mineral fertilisers, it is possible to lift yields by using composts made from urban wastes. The author has done it. With bio-assay over two decades.
Flooding has enormous cost but much can be avoided.
The current issue of “The Furrow”, the John Deere journal of April 16, prompted me to think again of my own work on top soil reservoirs and what is beginning to be called bio-engineering in flood control. Sands will hold about their own weight of water, clay two times, and peat 16 times. Composts made from urban wastes, including a wide range of industrial wastes, will hold 5 to 15 times their own weight. Put that into context of the Dutchman, Cornelius Vermuyden, who, in the 1650’s drained the flats of East Anglia. He knew that there had to be not only big, straight dykes but also sacrifice flood zones which were adequately boundaried and with enough capacity to take the worst water emission flow rates from the higher land. Now increase the organic matter levels of all the soils in the catchment area. Finally, plant grass, herbs, shrubs and preferably trees and do so at all levels right up to the highest. The cohesive effect of roots and the evaporation by active plants will buy time to even out the flow to what the lower water courses, adequately dredged, can cope with. As global warming increases extremes, we need to match that, preferably before the event, with buffers that even out flow rates.
Bill Butterworth 13 April 2016
Also see, “How to make on-farm composting work”, by Bill Butterworth, published by MX Publishng, London.
Working from the bottom upwards; The earth beneath our feet is complex, we are in the early stages of developing energy sources which are not only “renewable” but also sustainable. Now look at the sky; think how much energy is needed to evaporate enough water to form a single cloud.
The science: The problem with ignorance is that it does not know what it does not know. Whatever we might think, the global biosphere is very complex. Think of the super-computers that are now being used to try to forecast the weather in the UK – not very easy because weather systems are very complex, global and involve enormous amounts of energy and atmospheric gases.
The bad news: When ice melts at the polar icecaps, sea levels rise on low level islands and people lose their homes or drown. As we produce more Carbon dioxide, coral reefs die. By the way, the Thames barrage is just about on its limit; if the wrong combination of moon (tides) and wind occurs, it may not be high enough – will not soon but we do not know exactly when.
The good news: I remain optimistic about our technological ability to slow down and hold the decline. There is some progress. What I am less optimistic about is whether our politicians, who because of democracy are inevitably interested in the next election, will do enough, fast enough – because it will involve some tough decisions.
Bill Butterworth 12th March 2016
PS If you are a gardener, try reading “How garden composting works” published by MX Publishing and set your garden soil alive.