The practice of enriching the soil to improve crop growth is thousands of years old. Ancient Egyptian, Roman and Babylonian farmers are known to have ploughed wood ash and animal manure into the ground to increase crop production. Other records suggest that fish meal was first used as an organic fertilizer during the early 17th century. Later, in the 19th century, Europe and America began importing guano from the Andes, where Peruvian and Chilean farmers had used it for around 1 500 years or more. However, while the nutrient qualities of these materials are undeniable, their composition can vary widely. It is essential to provide the required nutrients in the necessary proportions to ensure healthy, high-quality crops and maximum yields.
The first synthetic substitute for these natural plant nutrient sources appeared in the early 19th century. In practice, this was a semi-natural organic fertilizer prepared by treating bones with sulphuric acid to form the compound known as superphosphate. Subsequently, manufacturers used phosphate rock and coprolites rather than bones, and potassium-rich products became available soon after. However, nitrogen is the most essential of all plant nutrients. As populations grew, the need for higher crop yields and pressure to find a reliable solution followed. The breakthrough came in 1914 when German scientists Fritz Haber and Carl Bosch developed a commercial process to produce ammonia from nitrogen and hydrogen.
The Haber-Bosch process overcame the hit-and-miss use of naturally-sourced organic fertilizers with a product of guaranteed composition and nutrient value. By the ‘20s, the Haber-Bosch process had spread through Europe to Britain and the United States. In the decades that followed, US corn production alone increased six-fold. Today, a typical facility can produce around 1 000 tons of ammonia daily. However, the process came with a hidden cost that has recently become apparent. That price is now proving too high.
Unfortunately, the Haber-Bosch process also emits more carbon dioxide than any other commercial chemical reaction. The growing carbon footprint and global warming fears are fuelling a return to more natural organic fertilizer products. While scientists are researching more environmentally friendly methods of ammonia production, some farmers have already reverted to using manure, composted vegetation and other natural sources of plant nutrients to meet the growing demand for organically-grown produce.
On the other hand, at Kynoch, we manufacture a range of accurately compiled and balanced commercial products, extracting those essential nutrients from more ethical sources and employing eco-friendly production methods. As a leading producer of high-quality, naturally sourced organic fertilizer, we invite you to view our extensive product range. You might also like to review our professional services to farmers in Southern Africa.