In this soon-to-be weekly series, I will highlight interesting things from recent memory. Today’s episode is on agriculture and women.
Agriculture (and Chemistry)
A recent (and free) science article has been getting quite a bit of media play, featured in both The Economist and Chemical and Engineering News. The article looks at better methods to hold fertilizer in the ground, solving two problems: plant productivity and water pollution.
Brief background on the problem
Fertilizers are plant multi-vitamins; nature just doesn’t make enough of all nutrients for plants to grow. Unfortunately, once applied, fertilizer rarely stays because it easily dissolves in water and washes away. Catch-22: ensure the fertilizers can dissolve and penetrate into the soil for plant consumption; ease of dissolution and penetration creates susceptibility to erosion. Therefore, farmers apply more fertilizer than is required, so plants can capture enough of the nutrients before eroding.
Where does this fertilizer end up when it washes away? A lot of it collects in surface water, becoming steroids for cyanobacteria – the blue-green stuff often seen floating in lakes and ponds. The picture of Lake Erie (Ohio) below and this gnarly video from CNN (Florida) illustrate this is not just a local issue. While there is argument about which nutrient is the culprit (nitrogen or phosphorus), it is clear that the accumulation of fertilizers is part of the problem.
Dealing with this “fertilizer catch-22” would be great for the environment due to reduced erosion and great for farmers because higher availability of multi-vitamins means higher growth rates (I suspect that agricultural businesses might see this differently).
This is where the article highlighted above comes into play. The researchers developed an approach using a non-toxic, cheap and partly nutritious (contains phosphorus) material that locks the fertilizer up and keeps it steady in the soil more than 10 times the usual amount. The researchers also tested this approach on farmland, observing a clear difference in plant growth.
It is an interesting scientific article solving an important problem and farmers everywhere rejoice.
tl;dr – Scientists explore a solution to solve multiple issues making farmers happy and reducing blue-green gook on lakes.
Women (and my mum)
March 8th (this past Wednesday) is special for two reasons: my family celebrates my mother’s birth and everyone celebrates women. It’s no coincidence that her birthday falls on the day dedicated to women for all that they consistently do – providing partnership and support (my wife and my mum), teaching responsibility and spirituality (my mothers and aunts and my mum), pampering (my grandmothers and my mum), engendering patience (my little sisters and cousins [haha] and my mum), stimulating intellectual growth (my former classmates and co-workers and my mum) as well as inspiring excellent work (my bosses and my mum) and productivity (my mentors and my mum).
To my mum, here’s to many more years!
To the women in my life, here’s to many more moments!!
tl;dr – I am surrounded by strong women . . . and my mum!