“As a society, we are growing plants with chemistry—not biology. It is not sustainable.” - Steve Phillips
Many types of fertilizer products are available on the market today. But not all of them are appropriate in a sustainable organic land care program.
The use of synthetic fertilizer is a big concern in regards to soil health and water quality including being a significant contributor to pollution that causes climate change.
Fertilizers containing nitrogen and phosphorus are a source of nutrient pollution. When it rains, excess nutrients can wash away into lakes, streams and rivers or even leach into groundwater. source
Excess nitrogen is a serious stressor in estuaries where it causes algae and seaweeds to grow vigorously and out-compete the native sea grasses that are the foundation of a healthy estuary. source
Excess nutrients cause harmful algal blooms which are an over growth of algae. Some of these blooms, such as cyanobacteria, produce toxins that are dangerous to wildlife, swimmers, and pets. Blooms that are not toxic can still harm local economies and the environment. source
Synthetic fertilizers can cause harm to the structure of our soil, and evaporate into the atmosphere in the form of nitrous oxide, a green house gas 300x more potent than Co2. source
Production of synthetic fertilizers is an energy intensive process that is dependent upon fossil fuel, and releases 3% of the world’s carbon emissions. source
The total annual methane emissions from synthetic fertilizer production are estimated at 28 gigagrams. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas. One scientist states that "In a 20-year timeframe, methane's global warming potential is 84 times that of carbon dioxide." source
Scientists have found that synthetic fertilizers can disrupt the carbon storing capacity of salt marshes by changing the microbial composition. source
Fertilizer that contain “biosolids” or marketed under brand names like “Milorganite” are made from municipal sewage sludge waste which has been found to be contaminated with toxic compounds, including Teflon chemicals (PFAS). source source source source
Biosolids are prohibited in organic farming and by organic land care standards. Some communities have been successful in restricting biosolid use. source source
View a PDF of our Fertilizer Fact Sheet here.
WHAT IS THE SOLUTION?
By judiciously using organic products that improve the soil, we can create a sustainable system that will increase carbon storage, reduce irrigation needs, and protect our water from pollution.
While native species of landscape plantings require little to no fertilization, turfgrass areas, especially athletic fields, will need supplemental nitrogen and other nutrients to create favorable soil conditions. Nutrients in organic fertilizers can be plant, animal, or mineral based. There is no need for phosphorus in an organic turfgrass fertilizer unless soil tests indicate a deficiency.
Nitrogen needs should be met by using amendments, not just fertilizer alone. An example of an amendment would be compost top dressing, or compost tea. Amendments can deliver nitrogen either directly, or indirectly through feeding the living microbes in the soil known as the biomass. By leaving grass clippings to decompose naturally, we find another way of naturally adding additional nitrogen. Look for the OMRI seal when choosing a product.
Organic fertilizer feeds the soil, which then in turn feeds the plant. Building a healthy biomass is essential to making the nutrients available to the grass. Over time as the soil conditions improve, less inputs will be needed and program costs will come down.