View From Above: Fertilizer Use Around the World

fertilizer world map photo

Image: G. K. MacDonald, E. M. Bennett, P. A. Potter, N. Ramankutty

The map above is the first illustration of worldwide imbalances in the use of phosphorus, a key component of fertilizers and an essential plant nutrient. "Typically, people either worry about what happens when an excess of phosphorus finds its way into the water, or they focus on what happens when we run out of phosphorus," said Graham MacDonald, lead author of the McGill University study. "This is the first study that illuminates the issue on a global scale and suggests that these are not separate problems... that the issue is one of distributing the phosphorus we've got."From the press release for the study:

The study used detailed agronomic information about how much phosphorus is applied to soils in fertilizers and manures for more than 100 different food, feed, and fibre crops produced around the world in 2000. The results point to large imbalances in phosphorus use, with both the overuse of phosphorus in some parts of the world and phosphorus deficits in others.

The biggest surprise turned up in the fact that entire regions do not come with surpluses or deficits of phosphorous, but rather that levels vary within regions—"with surpluses and deficits commonly occurring side-by-side in a single region."

We know that over-use of fertilizers around the world is bringing serious problems to the world's ecosystems: ocean dead zones to decreased grassland biodiversity to health problems like reproductive toxicity.

Local governments have been undertaking efforts to regulate phosphorous pollution nationwide—those policies can now be more informed, according to the authors of the study.

MacDonald said, "Until you can quantify how phosphorus is actually currently being used, it's difficult for policy-makers to go ahead and make informed decisions at a national or global scale."

More on fertilizer runoff
Fertilizer Runoff Linked to Developmental and Reproductive Toxicity
Ocean "Dead Zones" Increasing: 400 Oxygen-Deprived Areas Now Exist
"Peak Fertilizer" To Make Manure A Valuable Commodity
Excessive Fertilizer Use Decreasing Grassland Biodiversity: Scientists Discover Why

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