April 5, 2023

How excess nitrogen is damaging our planet, and what we can do about it

Nitrogen is incredibly important for plant growth and reproduction. But the way it’s commonly delivered to the soil – through synthetic fertilisers – can have a devastating impact on the environment.

Synthetic nitrogen fertilisers. Chances are, if you have a lawn or garden that you care for, you’re familiar with the term. It’s a commonly used fertiliser and is often marketed as a necessity for your plants and crops. However, an important fact that isn’t discussed enough is the negative effect that these nitrogenous fertilisers can have on the environment, biodiversity and even human health.

Too much of a good thing

Let’s first start off with a bit of plant biology. Plants perform photosynthesis, where they use sunlight to convert carbon dioxide and water into carbohydrates. These carbohydrates are then used as energy by the plant to grow. But in addition to sunlight, air, and water, plants also need nutrients, in the same way us humans do! 

One of the macronutrients plants need is nitrogen, which is critical for plant growth and reproduction. It’s considered a limiting nutrient, which means that a deficiency of nitrogen affects both yield and quality of crops and pastures. To add to this importance, nitrogen is needed in a greater quantity than any other nutrient. This is why nitrogenous fertilisers are used and why they’re so popular.

However, synthetic fertilisers often contain too much nitrogen, which when added to the soil results in a lot of nitrogen loss. In fact, it’s estimated that only approximately 50% of nitrogen from fertilisers are actually used by crops. This excess nitrogen is broken down into nitrates and then nitrous oxide, a potent greenhouse gas. It also undergoes a process called volatilisation, turning nitrogen into ammonia - a pollutant that can create holes in our ozone layer.

What does this mean for our planet?

Without sugar-coating it, these fertilisers can have a pretty devastating impact on the environment.

Firstly, the creation of nitrous oxide presents a serious problem, as it is 300 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. This is a key reason why fertiliser production and use accounted for 58% of the greenhouse gas emissions of the Australian wheat industry in the last 5 years.

However, the problems with the use of synthetic nitrogen fertilisers extends far beyond just greenhouse gas emissions, particularly in areas of high rainfall. When too much nitrogen is added and the soil cannot retain it all, it can leach into groundwater and wash into waterways. Nitrogen in groundwater is a huge problem, as it has been shown to be particularly harmful to young children and can combine with food to create cancer-forming compounds.

Furthermore, long term application of nitrogenous fertilisers leads to an increase in soil acidity, which can actually render the soil infertile where crops do not respond to further application of nitrogen fertiliser. In addition to this, many plants cannot actually tolerate synthetic fertilisers, and so the use of these synthetic fertilisers has a negative impact on plant biodiversity.

Well, what’s the alternative?

The challenge is this: our plants need nitrogen for healthy growth and reproduction, but excess nitrogen as it's delivered through synthetic fertilisers really harms our planet. The solution? Enter stage left, organic fertilisers.

Organic fertilisers are usually slow-release, which greatly reduces the chances of over-fertilising the soil. The organic matter in the fertiliser also acts to improve soil structure, improving the soil's ability to retain nutrients and in turn prevents run-off.

Bardee’s Superfly fertiliser is completely organic, made from 100% Black Soldier Fly frass. This means that the nitrogen in the fertiliser is slow-releasing, making it almost impossible to introduce excess nitrogen into the soil. This prevents many of the harmful effects associated with nitrogenous fertilisers as discussed above. Superfly also contains plenty of beneficial microbes, enabling nitrogen to be available for plants to use - this means that more nitrogen is absorbed by the soil, preventing the chances of run-off. 

Our fertiliser also does not have the same harmful production of greenhouse gases that synthetic fertilisers do. In fact, our ground-breaking production process actually offsets carbon emissions when we create our fertiliser - 5 kg of CO2e per kg of Superfly!

Contact us today to find out more about Superfly and to discuss pricing!

Raghav Sharma

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