Whether natural or artificial, people have been using fertilisers for a long time. With the increase of interest in organic farming and knowledge of what's in our food, some see many disadvantages to using fertilisers. It can affect the soil, plants, animals and the humans who eat the food. Plus, it can add an unnecessary cost.
Organic vs. Chemical Fertilizer
There are two basic kinds of fertilisers: organic and chemical. Organic fertilisers consist of compost, manure and other naturally occurring substances. Chemical fertilisers are manufactured, often using materials and compounds that are not naturally occurring in soil. In terms of the long-term health of the soil, chemical fertilisers present more disadvantages than organic, although they may lead to higher yield in the short run. Compost and manure are materials with higher concentrations of the beneficial compounds that already exist naturally in the soil, and can therefore be added to the soil without fear of changing its chemical balance.
Use of any kind of fertiliser, either chemical or organic, can lead to unintended secondary consequences. One of these is runoff, which occurs when the fertiliser is moved by rainwater off of the land where it was applied and into nearby streams, rivers and lakes. The results of this can vary from actual poisoning of plants and animals in the bodies of water, if the fertiliser contains compounds that are toxic to them, to an excess of nutrients in the water leading to algae blooms and other unnatural growths. These blooms can upset the ecological balance of the bodies of water by unnaturally inflating some populations at the expense of others.
The expense of fertiliser can be a disadvantage, depending on what type of fertiliser you are using. Large-scale conventional farmers spend huge amounts of money on chemical fertilisers. Organic farmers can also spend substantial amounts of composting programs and equipment to spread manure. For small operations or home gardens, compost can be created from household food scraps and lawn clippings. This is an inexpensive option but takes a lot more time to show results than the application of expensive and fast-acting chemical fertilisers.
Masking Soil Problems
Addition of fertiliser to unproductive soils, if done without a basic understanding of the composition and condition of your soil, can sometimes prevent you from learning what the problem with the soil is that prevents it from being fertile. In the absence of added fertiliser, farmers and gardeners are more motivated to treat the soil in a way that maintains its fertility in an integral way.
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