Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

It’s Time to Prepare for Peak Phosphorus

By Graeme Batten and Lindsay Campbell

A looming global shortage of an important fertiliser necessitates the development of phosphorus-efficient crops, recycling of phosphorus from sewage and even separating it from urine.

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Australians should be very concerned and New Zealanders alarmed by their dependence on phosphorus. Why? On a per person assessment, Australians and New Zealanders use 5.3 and 15.4 times more phosphorus than the world average, which is 2.4 kg per person per year.

The reason for the high usage per person is the small populations of these countries relative to their production of exported products – mainly cereals from Australia and milk and meat from New Zealand. As our populations increase, more food will be consumed locally relative to the amount of food exported, but the demand for imported phosphorus fertiliser will remain high.

The food security of nations is highly dependent on phosphorus. The need for continual inputs of phosphorus fertiliser for food production cannot be taken for granted. Crop yields would immediately decline on average by an estimated 20% and by 30-40% within 5 years if phosphorus fertilisers became unavailable. This would be disastrous. The world population increases by about 75 million people annually and crop yields must increase by about 1.2% each year to keep pace.

Furthermore, the availability of phosphorus for food production cannot be taken for granted. The major reserves of the world are now concentrated in the USA and North Africa, but the latter will become the dominant provider in only 50 years from now. Supply...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.