A Mixed Blessing
If we don’t watch out, agriculture could destroy our planet. Here’s how to grow all the food we need with fewer chemicals.
By Dan Charles
N. Nitrogen. Atomic number seven. Unnoticed, untasted, it nevertheless fills our stomachs. It is the engine of agriculture, the key to plenty in our crowded, hungry world.
Without this independent-minded element, disinclined to associate with other gases, the machinery of photosynthesis cannot function—no protein can form, and no plant can grow. Corn, wheat, and rice, the fast-growing crops on which humanity depends for survival, are among the most nitrogen hungry of all plants. They demand more, in fact, than nature alone can provide.
Enter modern chemistry. Giant factories capture inert nitrogen gas from the vast stores in our atmosphere and force it into a chemical union with the hydrogen in natural gas, creating…
View original post 2,862 more words