Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Getting Out of the Potash Corner

It’s a funny thing about being a manufacturer of a nutritional product like teraswhey, I get to care where my ingredients come from.  And since whey comes from milk, things that impact raising cows or goats are things that I care about.  This is why I care about Potash.  Without it, we can’t grow the forages (including grasses) and crops that feed livestock.

Since my last potash posting, I’ve done more research on alternatives to potash as a source of potassium in soil.  The Rodale website has information on it for helping diagnose nutritional deficiencies in soil.  In the case of potassium deficiency, it recommends adding composted manure, wood ashes, greensand, or seaweed.  I have yet to figure out what greensand is, but otherwise the list was a bit reassuring for small-scale agriculture.  We can compost manure and find sources of wood ash – may include burning your garden in the fall as part of a soil improvement effort, for example.

What about large-scale production alternatives?  Seaweed could be promising, so I used the global trade database Alibaba to search for seaweed fertilizer companies.  Wow.  More bad news for us.  There were 8 companies listed there, none of which are in the US.  3 were Chinese, 3 Indian, 1 Pilipino, and 1 Peruvian. 

Next I dug around more and discovered that the American agricultural giant Cargill owns 60% of Mosaic, a US company headquartered in Minnesota and traded on the NY stock exchange.  Mosaic has 3 potash mines in Saskatchewan and one in the US.  All of their planned supply expansion is in Canada.  They plan to take their production from 8.6MT to 15MT.  US Potash consumption in 2010 is estimated to be 4.1 MT.; Mosaic’s US production is 1.5MT.

So, does it feel better to know that our alternative for large-scale supply is controlled by Cargill?  Yes, it’s certainly better than no alternative.  And yet, this has its own ramifications – large-scale agriculture in the US is increasingly controlled by a handful of very, very large companies, Monsanto, Cargill being the leaders.  The smaller scale alternatives are all overseas in places like China and India.  This feels a bit like alternative energy projects.  The largest manufacturer of wind turbines is now located in India.  China is on track to develop its alternative energy technologies and use far faster than we are in the US.

What has happened to the US being the worldwide leader in innovation? If we ever want to have middle class jobs again, we need to start creating innovative young companies that produce alternative technologies to those that are controlled by global giants.  Here in the Great Lakes, maybe that could be freshwater seaweed fertilizer?

Oh, and check out this recipe for making your own seaweed fertilizer:


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