Are we seeing the death of science? | Functional Fertiliser

Are we seeing the death of science?

PW Burton

“Where’s your replicated peer reviewed research?”  It’s been the question asked endlessly in recent years of those operating on the fringes of the conventional fertiliser industry.

It’s essential to appreciate that there are no long term trials on any of the widely used fertiliser products being sold today, with the exception of Sechura phosphate rock from Peru, which was being used in the 1980s.

In the Preface and Acknowledgements of the text Fertilisers and Soils in New Zealand Farming (1984), summarising all the major work undertaken to that date by scientists in NZ, is the following:  “Field experiments measuring maintenance requirements of fertilisers and lime are extremely costly in time, land, and input of technical skill.  It is not glamorous research and it needs the co-operation of several disciplines for periods of up to 15 years….  For this reason only one well run, and well documented long-term experiment with rates of superphosphate has been carried out in New Zealand.”  (at Winchmore Irrigation Research Station, beginning late 1970s or early 1980s).

One long term trial, and it did not include locally made superphosphate.  There has been short-term work, from which widespread usage has developed. But not long-term, well documented, multi -disciplinary based trials.

So what do farmers believe or, more importantly, who do they believe? Because when push comes to shove we work with those we like and trust.   We rely on the advice of others, as few of us have the time or ability to thoroughly research and understand screeds of technical data.

Farmer owned co-operatives have until now commanded the high ground, on the basis that they are working in the best interests of their shareholders, and would never be involved in selling product that wasn’t beneficial.

However, we now hear that the upgrade of the Kapuni ammonia urea plant is not proceeding smoothly, as a suitable financial partner has not been found.   We are treated to regular reports on the amount of nitrate N entering our groundwater, and nitrous oxide entering the atmosphere, along with the reported continuous loss of soil carbon.  All of these effects can be connected with the overuse of nitrogen, so that long-term financial backers for increasing its production may well  be few and far between.

A thought provoking recent article by Andrew Holster titled Death of Science states that, “modern science is in a state of unprecedented crisis.  It is suffering from a chronic illness that has been advancing steadily since the 1960’s, finally accelerating to fatal proportions in the last decade.”

Given that there has been no ‘ground breaking’ fertiliser research in this country since the 1970’s, could this be applicable to the current mainstream fertiliser industry?

The loss of carbon from our lowland soils, and consequent reduction in permanent pasture production, demands new technologies, not just a tweaking of the practices that have resulted in our present situation.

Not all of what is done now is wrong.  There’s a sound scientific base for the application of major growth nutrients. However to date the refined usage and integration with the requirements of robustly healthy soils is being done by those on the fringes of both industry and science, the place where all significant change ultimately comes from.

The means of identifying those that can deliver the benefits demanded for the future can be identified through careful questioning of all suppliers by farmers.

The application of common sense and intuition will narrow the field, and those suppliers worth their salt will have long term performance data.  It’s up to each individual farmer to discover those that can provide the systems that will once again make this country the world leader in low-cost efficient pastoral farming.

For more information call Peter on 0800 843 809.

Pin It on Pinterest