Tag Archives: fertiliser prices

Recycle N to land – safely

There is one fundamental rule in nature: Given enough dilution, given enough time, Nature will handle anything. The trick is to know how much dilution and how much time.  To some extent, the two factors are interchangeable.  Fortunately, humus (that complex mixture of hydrocarbons, carbo-hydrates and proteins with significant colloidal capacity) is a very effective chemical “buffer” which will smooth out release of toxins and nutrients.  There is also a biological buffer in that the mycorrhizae can be selective and take what they need (and no more) from an otherwise too high a concentration of a toxin or nutrient in a feedstock (such as compost).  These mechanisms add enormously to the safety of recycling to land.

Having said that, like all living mechanisms, don’t push it too far, knowing how far depends on reading the research, using common sense and not rushing the fence – build up slowly and learn to manage the stress in the system.

Also see “How to make on-farm composting work”, by Bill Butterworth, MX Publishing, London 1998,

Bill Butterworth, Land Research Ltd,  6 June 2018

Synthetic N Fertiliser

In the UK , around 80 % of the cultivation energy we use is to undo previous traffic compaction and around 50 % of the energy we use to manufacture and spread fertiliser goes into the groundwater. This is neither profitable in the short run nor sustainable in the long.

The nature of the Nitrogen molecule carrier/store dramatically affects not only N fertiliser losses to groundwater, but how it gets into the plant and promotes growth.

Nitrogen fertiliser can be applied in two forms; as soluble in water (such as ammonium nitrate) and as organically bound N (as part of long, Carbon-chain molecules).If the molecule is relatively small and in-organic (mot part of a Carbon chain molecule), then it can be absorbed across the root-hair wall and progressively built up by the plant metabolism into amino acids and plant proteins. This route has served us well and saved countless billions from starving and postponed their death.

There is a problem.  While “artificial” or “synthetic” fertiliser N certainly has its place, the energy cost of manufacture and the losses to groundwater are unsustainable. The alternative will be discussed in the next post on this blog.

Also see “Reversing global Warming for Profit” by Bill Butterworth published on Amazon.

Bill Butterworth, Land Research Ltd,   20 May 2018


Nitrogen in the next 10 years

Whether government and do-good “environmental” lobbyists agree or like it, or not, in a western economy, cash is the driver

I have come across several cases recently of the Environment Agency refusing to allow Deployments to spread processed wastes because there was “too much nitrogen” present.  The Nitrogen would, in composts and organic wastes, be present substantially, if not completely, as organically bound N.  In a grassland or direct-drilled arable soil, that might release as little as 1 or 2 % of the total Nitrogen in that soil, to ground water per annum.  (That might be just enough to keep the weed in a trout steam growing at a natural rate.)  At the other extreme, in a much-cultivated clay soil, the release of N might reach 10%, and in a much cultivated sandy soil, maybe 15 % per annum.  Now, to be economic, if the farm did then not have composts made from “wastes”, and used ammonium nitrate, then the percentage of N lost to groundwater would be between 30 and 60 or even a bit higher (85%) on an irrigated sandy soil.

The point is this. Read the research. Recycled wastes spread as well made compost are generally safe to add to farm land at any N content, without limit on quantity added.  Don’t believe the research?  Try common sense; when Vermuyden drained the Fens some 300 years ago, it was, and remains, possible to grow a crop (probably the best crop in the UK) every year, without ever adding any N fertiliser in any year for 300 years.  By the way, some of these Fen soils were 10 or 12 m deep when first drained (the N reserves were enormous) and the dykes and Norfolk Broads were not full of green slime and dead fish.

If the human race is to survive, we have to recycle wastes to land.

Bill Butterworth, Land Research Ltd   18th May 2018

UN 4p000 Farmed Soil as a Carbon Sink


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.

They have much greater knowledge than I and my limited knowledge would concur with that view.  However, fertilising crops based on composting urban wastes could easily achieve, and surpass that target. It has been done.  See https://www.amazon.co.uk/Reversing-Global-Warming-Profit-environmentally/dp/1904312810

Bill Butterworth, Land Research Ltd

3 Million Starving;Food, Famine and Failure

Municipal waste on its way to Frog Island on the Thames estuary There is enough waste in western society, to fertilise enough crop,s to feed western society,

The UN warning of 3 million people facing what will for most of them be unavoidable starvation and death is not new.  Malthus predicted it in 1798 and we have been doing a bit since then but not enough. If you are comfortable, why do anything at all about it?  In any case, as an individual, what you do is insignificant.

An international consequence is that empty bellies always lead to war.  In the history of the world, that has always been true.  Could we fill bellies globally?  Technically, the answer is yes, we can.  Military conflict often gets in the way.  Political will in developed countries always gets in the way.  It is almost a lifetime away that Bob Geldoff stood up in the EU Parliament and observed that the situation of global hunger and the plenty of Western counties was “obscene”.  It is now worse.

How do we fix it?  Simply use urban wastes to fertilise land and grow better crops.  It has been done in the UK and Egypt, and lots of other places. We need to scale it up and urgently. It would save a lot of imports in the UK, too, The environment would be better off, See “Survival”.

Land Research Ltd 25 MaRCH 2017

Nitrogen and the Environment

Shredded waste carpet, containing wool (as an organic nitrogen source). If the carpet contains synthetic fibers, too, then so much the better for soil structure and holding water (so reducing irrigation need and reducing flood risk lower down in the catchment).

Nitrogen and the environment is in the news again.  The truth is that we can have more than enough Nitrogen to grow even higher yielding crops, provided it is organically bound. That means that farming either has to find organic sources of N (not always available and likely to be expensive), or make them.  The way to make them is potentially both safe and profitable.

The one great blessing of the expanding numbers and wealth of the human race is that that expansion is mirrored by an increase in urban and industrial wastes. Most of that waste can, despite the reticence of the regulators, be safely recycled to land.  To do so not only solves the waste recycling problem, it can and will grow better crops with higher yield, with less cultivation energy, less crop disease, and dramatically less Nitrogen run-off.

How do we know that?  Because it has been done. Search; How to make on-farm composting work

Land Research Ltd  13 March 17

Wastes, fertilisers and sustainability.



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.