Larry Larry, April 29, 2018

When people think of the causes of greenhouse gases, most people think of transportation, electricity or industrial products. But according to the EPA, agriculture accounts for 9% of greenhouse gas production. A great source of this comes from mis-management of fertilization related to unsustainable farming practices.

Many people turn to USDA-certified organic foods to reduce their carbon footprint and increase agriculture sustainability, but the USDA standard comes with issues of its own. We spoke with a local farmer, Chris Covelli of Tomato Mountain Farm in Wisconsin about this issue.

According to Chris, organic certification is expensive (nearly $3,000 a year). He’s thinking about dropping his certification because “some organic rules encourage resource irresponsibility, while also being hypocritical, with respect to fertility inputs.”

Below is his explanation of some of the environmental, ethical and sustainable problems with USDA organic farming:

“Most affordable, farm scale organic fertilizers are animal derived. Feeding animals to plants is the most upside down, unsustainable practice on the planet. Were it practiced on a large scale, all the fish in the world would be gone in no time. Plant based, organically approved alternatives are often extremely/prohibitively expensive. Many mineral/salt based, manufactured fertilizers are inexpensive, effective, and completely non toxic to soil and soil life, but organic rules don’t allow most of them. Some of the rules just don’t make sense.

Organic code allows the use of chicken manure from the worst treated conventional chickens on the planet, and fish emulsion, preserved with phosphoric acid. There is nothing particularly bad about phosphoric acid. However, organic code doesn’t otherwise allow its use, or that of any fertilizer that is manufactured, even though they’re not harmful or toxic to soil life. I can’t use phosphoric acid, but it’s the preservative used to keep fish fertilizer from rotting! I’m allowed to use a ridiculously unsustainable product that is preserved with something I’m not otherwise allowed to use? This doesn’t make sense.

I can use chemical (salt) fertilizers if they’re mined and occur naturally, but not if they’re manufactured. That’s the only distinction. For example, I can use epsom salts and potassium sulfate if they’re mined, but not potassium sulfate if it’s manufactured into a soluble form. When I drip irrigate tomatoes, the readily dissolvable, manufactured form of potassium sulfate would work great, but organic code only allows me to use the form that is mined (that doesn’t dissolve), so I can’t use it to drip irrigate. Either way, soil life is affected similarly. Mining is a destructive and energy consumptive activity, no better (probably worse) than synthesizing a soluble fertilizer.”