April 5, 2023

Flushed away

The fifteenth element on the periodic table. One of the three main macronutrients needed for plant growth and vitality. As part of the Green Revolution, we started mining phosphate rock to unlock 10X crop yields. As a result, fertilisers today are packed full of phosphorus, allowing our crops to grow strong and healthy. So what’s the problem?

Without putting it lightly, phosphorus is essential for life as we know it. It’s used for the production of DNA and RNA, is needed for the growth and maintenance of all tissues and cells, and is one of three major plant nutrients in soil. Simply put, life would not exist without phosphorus. Without enough phosphorus, plants do not grow properly. They have stunted roots and discoloured leaves - ultimately delaying plant maturity and reducing yield. Behind nitrogen, it’s the most limiting macronutrient for plant growth. 

As you can now see, phosphorus is incredibly important.

Phosphorus in nature

Because of this fine balancing act regarding the amount of phosphorus in our soil, nature has actually developed an elegant system for preserving it. While phosphorus is consumed by plants and animals, it’s actually never ‘used up’. Because of this, through excrement and dead cells the phosphorus is reintroduced back into the soil. This tight loop made sure that the soil always had sufficient levels of macronutrients.

However, modern agriculture made the shift from this loop to a one-way pipeline.

From a loop to a line

In agriculture, we remove the crop from the soil. Instead of the phosphorus returning to the soil, it is deposited elsewhere - be it landfill (food waste), sewage, or manure pits. Every crop that is removed takes a bit of phosphorus from the soil, meaning that overtime the amount of phosphorus in the soil is reduced. 

This is where the need for fertiliser arises - the soil’s phosphorus levels need to constantly be replenished, and we currently do this by adding fertiliser to the soil. However, to obtain this phosphorus it is mined from phosphate rock - a finite resource whose reserves are dwindling.

The problem with mining phosphate rock

There are a number of issues with our mining of phosphate rock.

Well, it’s not a forever strategy. Phosphate rock is a finite resource, and some experts say that reserves are already getting dangerously low. Even if we have enough reserves for the next 1,000 years, phosphate rock mining will likely become more expensive. Not to mention, almost all reserves are located in China or Morocco, making our phosphorus supply chains particularly open to risk. 

Also, the mining of phosphate rock for phosphorus is particularly wasteful - only about 20% of the mined phosphorus is used. The rest is wasted and usually ends up in our lakes, rivers and oceans. This presents a huge problem, as it leads to a particularly nasty kind of pollution called eutrophication - where algae bloom and then die, sucking up all the oxygen and causing ‘dead zones’ where nothing can live.

The best solution science has come up with is to retrieve the phosphorus run-off from the ocean with giant filtration systems. But this is far from a perfect solution, and doesn’t tackle the root of the problem - the linear model of phosphorus mining.

So what can be done?

We’re making phosphorus circular again

At Bardee, we’re strong believers that the only way to truly solve this problem is to close the loop and return phosphorus from plants and animals back to the soil. We do this by feeding food waste to black soldier fly larvae and processing their castings into a phosphorus-rich organic fertiliser. In this way, Superfly recovers phosphorus from food that would otherwise go to landfill to grow more sustainable crops - a truly circular system. Not only does Superfly deliver plant-available phosphorus to plants, it is also chock full of beneficial microbes to make the nutrients already in the soil accessible to the plants you’re growing while improving the overall health and structure of the soil.

Better for the planet, better for your plants.

Get in touch with us today to experience the power of Superfly for yourself!

Raghav Sharma

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