U of G professor asks for fertilizer grants

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As fertilizer prices continue to rise, Professor Manish Raizada thinks subsidies could help tackle food shortages and high prices

As fertilizer costs continue to rise, a University of Guelph professor is urging governments to offer fertilizer subsidies as a way to tackle growing food insecurity.

Fertilizers allow farmers to produce higher yields, which helps them stay in business and buy food at an affordable price. But in the past year alone, prices have increased by at least 250%.

The last time prices hit such a high was during the 2008 recession, which caused the “chronic malnutrition of 150 million people, because every crop in the world badly needs fertilizer, especially nitrogen fertilizers,” said plant agriculture professor Manish Raizada.

It is therefore no coincidence that earlier this month the UN published a report stating that world hunger increased by 46 million last year. The jump is widely attributed to climate change, the pandemic and the war in Ukraine, the latter of which caused global supply chain issues and a spike in oil and natural gas prices, directly impacting the cost fertilizers.

This means problems for crops that need a lot of fertilizer, like corn.

“Let’s say the average corn farm in southern Ontario was about 100 acres. Nitrogen prices have increased by around 250-300% over the past year,” Raizada said. “That means the price increase per 100 acres is about $5,000. So it’s $5,000 directly out of their income.

A significant sum, considering that the average corn farmer only earns about a penny per ear of corn.

“It puts more pressure on small family farms,” he said. “We need to produce more food in the next 50 years than all of human history combined. Canada is a major global producer of food, particularly grains, wheat and soybeans. . We cannot let our farmers close their doors.

In addition, one in seven Guelph residents already report living in a food insecure household starting in 2021. This number can be expected to increase if things continue on this trajectory.

“When there is a price shock like this, I think the government needs to step in,” he said.

Other countries, such as the United States and Japan, offer subsidies if farm incomes fall below a certain level, in order to guarantee the continuation of their activities. But Canada only offers farmers crop insurance in the event of natural disasters, which does not include market price fluctuations, however dramatic.

This means that one of two things can happen when farmers start harvesting in late summer and early fall: either farmers will absorb the costs themselves, which will affect income, or or the price of food will increase, which will have an impact on consumers.

Farmers usually agree on a purchase price months or even a year in advance, meaning “they’ll either bear that cost in terms of fertilizer or if they don’t get stuck, they can pass those prices on to buyers and consumers.” ,” he said. “But whatever happens, we can say that the increase in fertilizer prices will ultimately have an impact on consumer food prices.”

Raizada believes this will lead to “the biggest increase in hunger and malnutrition in the world” by the end of the year, which is why he is calling on governments to introduce a temporary fertilizer subsidy .

But there are also more cost effective and sustainable alternatives to nitrogen fertilizers that don’t require natural gas. Thus, these subsidies should also allow farmers to experiment with other approaches to see what works best for them.

“It is difficult for farmers to try to experiment with other approaches. They don’t want to take any risks. So I think there should be subsidies to help farmers reduce the amount of fertilizer used and experiment with other technologies.

A well-known alternative to synthetic fertilizers is crop rotation with soybeans, which allows the plant to make its own fertilizer through nitrogen fixation.

“So when farmers harvest the grain and bury the rest of the plant in the ground, it breaks down and adds that nitrogen fertilizer to feed the next crop,” he said.

Lower fertilizer prices would help prevent food insecurity with higher yields and lower costs, but there is no sign that costs will come down any time soon. So if governments don’t step in, Raizada thinks we’re going to be in for a shock come harvest season.

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