Peak Phosphorous

The Phosphorous Cycle
The Phosphorous Cycle (Img src: http://www.scienceminusdetails.com)
ARE the new cattle exports a good thing for Australia….in the long term could it be disastrous?

Not long ago the government rectified the trade agreement in regards to the Indonesian cut of live beef exports. This was going to cost producers an exorbitant amount of money and now China has decided to also purchase a massive quota of cattle that could have been left out sitting in the massive paddocks of northern Australia.

I question if is this going to be a good thing for Australia?

Sitting in our homestead in Ashby, where the wildlife is abundant and the cattle seem fat and happy, biodiversity is evident at every turn. Herein lies a predicament that is not frequently discussed, peak phosphorous.

What does phosphorous have to do with anything you say? Well, when it comes to plant growth and nutrition it has everything to do with it. When you grow something on a piece of land; be that cattle, cane, wheat, sheep etc., and then take it from that land; the elements of Phosphorous are also taken. The question of replacement is important.

According to Soilquality.org ‘Ancient and highly weathered soils with very low levels of natural phosphorus (P) dominate much of Australia’. Are we digging a hole we can’t get out of?

After the green revolution in the late 1800s when the development of how to synthesise elements like phosphorous and nitrogen, agricultural chemicals like these became wide spread. Countries like Nauru at one time profited highly from the mining and exporting of phosphorous.

We have maybe heard of the term ‘Peak Oil’. However, have you ever heard of the term ‘Peak Phosphorous’? According to Sustainable Phosphorous Futures ‘We will see a global peak in phosphate rock reserves, estimated to occur in the next 30 years’. However, it is never discussed in the media or with the powers that be.

If you run out of phosphorous then you cannot grow plants. Without plants we have a disaster waiting to happen. Most of the phosphorous is falling into the sea and waterways, hence the massive algal blooms that happen. I started with the question: Will these huge exports in the short-term benefit Australia? Or are these exports taking away this highly valuable element? Are we thinking about the future? What do you think?

~ Will Elrick

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