Although nitrogen makes up 78% of the atmosphere in its gaseous form it can not be used by plants and so needs an intermediary process to transfer it to the soil.
The various natural way of transferring atmospheric nitrogen to the soil where plants can use it is by lightning strikes, the breakdown of rocks by frost, erosion and glaciers, plus the growing of legumes.
With broadacre crops such as wheat and maize, nitrogen is an ideal fertiliser and in 1909 the Haber-Bosch production used nitrogen and hydrogen to produce ammonia which could then be used to deliver nitrogen to the fields.
There is no doubt that the production of ammonia and by extension nitrogen in huge quantities has increased food production many times over and moved many countries into self-sufficiency for food and massively reduced starvation.
The downside of nitrogen is that we produce over 100 million tonnes of synthetic nitrogen annually and only 50% is absorbed by crops and the rest is washed into the rivers and streams. This causes streams and lakes to develop harmful algae which steals the oxygen and kills aquatic wildlife.
Farmers are aware of the problem and are being more careful with the application of fertiliser and also aware that continuous use of nitrogen to stimulate growth depletes the natural minerals and fibre in the soil and they are moving towards the use of legumes and clovers to fix nitrogen in the soil and slowly regenerate the soil. Farmers are also reserving a riparian margin on the streams and planting trees to filter out nutrients and eroded soil to protect the stream and improve water quality. The trees also provide shade and keep the water cooler.
There is also a problem in that modern varieties of crops such as a short wheat and most modern varieties of vegetables have a lower content of minerals compared with the traditional old varieties. Farmer are paid by the weight and the look of their produce and not by the nutritional value of the food they produce so it is possible for apparently well-fed people to suffer from nutrition starvation.
On the upside there are huge improvements that can be made for more efficient food production so that we can use less land to feed our growing population and clean our rivers to make a better world. Scientific research can point the way to avoid disasters but as we have seen from climate change, businesses and politicians often prefer to take the money and forget about the future.
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