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No Blood For... Fertilizer?

As we've noted before, it's a real possibility that the world could run into "peak fertilizer" in the coming decades, especially if world reserves of rock phosphate really are scheduled to run out within a half-century, as some experts predict. Here's another story along those lines, from Brazil, where fertilizer prices have doubled over the past year and the government is thinking about taking radical action:

Brazil may nationalize privately held mineral deposits used to make fertilizer to bring down farm production costs, Agriculture Minister Reinhold Stephanes said. ...

The government would decide on whether to repossess mineral deposits and give them to state-run companies or others in the private sector to return fertilizer prices to levels four months ago, he said.

Brazil imports 80 percent of its potassium and 60 percent of its phosphorus. It is also a major importer of nitrogen. Prices for all of these have skyrocketed with increased world demand for agricultural crops.

Brazil is the world's largest producer of coffee, sugar, and orange juice, and ranks way up there for soy and corn, so a fertilizer shortage there is a big deal for everyone. Of course, Brazil's fertilizer sector is also controlled by a small handful of big multinationals like Cargill, so if the Brazilian government actually started seizing mineral deposits, it might run into trouble—or, who knows, cause an international incident. Making things even more complicated, as Tom Philpott points out, if Brazil wants to increase its potassium production to bring down the price of fertilizer, it will have to hack even further into the Amazon jungle, which is problematic from a climate standpoint. A good old-fashioned mess all around.

--Bradford Plumer