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Phosphate Rocks!

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  • INTRODUCTION On approximately two thirds of the world’s arable land, phosphorus is a plant growth limiting nutrient (Lambers et al., 2013). Agriculture utilizes roughly 80% of the mined phosphate rock as fertilizer, with the remaining 20% being utilized in products such animal feed supplements, food preservatives, pesticides, fungicides, herbicides, water treatments, cosmetics, and metallurgy (Sattari, 2012). Currently we derive approximately 63% of our phosphorus fertilizer from phosphate rock, with the remainder being derived from animal manure, sewage sludge, and guano (Rittman, 2011). Phosphate rock reserves are finite, which leads to a predicament: we will run out of phosphate rock eventually. The concept, stressed by peak resource theory, is that once global reserves are depleted by half, economic factors will drive resource prices high and unattainable by many (Cordell and White, 2013). Phosphorus does not have a substitute in biomass production. Unlike energy resources, we cannot look to other resources to mitigate our dependency upon phosphate rock (Gilbert, 2009). Phosphorus has potential to be recycled (Rittman, 2011). On a large scale, if agriculture gears itself to derive phosphorus fertilizer from recycled phosphorus we can avoid phosphorus resource scarcity.
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