The current options that farmers have for soil amendments and fertilizers are far from ideal; most of the plants that you eat are grown with the assistance of harsh chemicals like urea. Nitrogen based fertilizers and urea based products have become some of the most common tools in the agriculture industry in the United States with urea currently being the most commonly used fertilizer in the world. Urea is produced in fertilizer factories where fossil fuels are burned to take nitrogen out of the atmosphere at extremely high temperatures and pressure to convert it into a more accessible form for plants.
Unfortunately, most farmers depend on urea, and other similar products to provide enough nitrogen to their soil for their crops to succeed. Urea and other chemically derived soil amendments have created large scale problems for the farmers, consumers, as well as the planet by making their soil consistently more dependent on an external input of nitrogen, using heavy amounts of fossil fuels to fix the nitrogen, contributing profoundly to the carbon footprint of crop production and polluting the surrounding watershed and oceans with the excess nutrient runoff.
Urea and other chemically based fertilizers wreak havoc on the soil, crops and the ecosystem that they are dumped into. Bhardwaj (2014) states in his article that “In general, 60% to 90% of the total applied fertilizer is lost and the remaining 10% to 40% is taken up by plants.” All of that unused fertilizer will be washed away and dumped into the local watershed which eventually makes its way into the ocean. In the United States we are seeing harrowing evidence of this fertilizer runoff in the massive “Dead Zone” in the Gulf of Mexico. It is becoming increasingly clear that chemical fertilizers are a wasteful, harmful and unsustainable option for modern agriculture.
The issues that chemically derived fertilizers, like urea, cause are endless. Not only is urea a very short term solution, but it comes with a string of guaranteed long term damages. The current approach of using chemical fertilizers is unsustainable and many scientists, environmentalists and farmers agree that we need to walk away from urea and step towards a more sustainable and environmentally friendly way of farming.
For more information on urea production and the fossil fuel waste that comes along with it, check out this page