Whether it is an agriculture specialist or a home gardener, both need to be well aware of the pros and cons of an organic fertilizer and chemical fertilizer. In fact, there is a constant debate on one form of fertilizer being better than the other. Let us first look into the definitions of each fertilizer and then graduate to their positive and negative implications.
An organic fertilizer is a substance that contains nutrients derived from the remains or by-product of an organism. Examples of this category are cottonseed meal, blood meal, fish emulsion, manure and sewage sludge. Organic fertilizers are naturally rich in nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, and all these three nutrients are major requisites in plant growth. In contrast to them, chemical fertilizers are synthetically produced plant nutrients from inorganic materials.
Organic fertilizers feed the plants while building the soil's structure. A soil which has ample organic matter will stay loose and airy. In addition, it will retain moisture and nutrients, and thereby promoting growth of organisms like earthworms and healthy root development. The other advantage of organic fertilizers is that they are made from natural sources -- plants, animal or rocks. These materials need to be broken down by soil microbes for their nutrients to be released, which takes time. Since the action of organic fertilizers is slow, it provides long-term nutrition and steady growth. Home gardeners can create their own organic fertilizer by composting or mixing cow, sheep or poultry manure with other organic matters. Therefore, organic fertilizers are relatively cheaper.
Recent studies are showing that organically produced crops contain approximately 30 percent more antioxidant and phenolic content than similar crops produced using chemicals and pesticides.
It has been found that the levels of vitamins, antioxidants and flavenoids in organically produced food is at least two to three times higher than food produced using chemical fertilizers. These high levels of nutrients in organic produce can be attributed to the environment the plants and crops are grown in. The growing environment actually facilitates the development of the plants' natural defense mechanism as they grow among weeds and insects and without chemical pesticides. This defense mechanism also triggers off the increase in content of flavenoids, volatile compounds, phenolics and other antioxidants. These aromatic compounds also enhance the flavor and taste. However, these fertilizers can only have high content levels of either one of the essential nutrients required by plants namely, nitrogen, phosphorus or potassium.
Chemical fertilizers on the other hand, can contain all three of the major nutrients. They also produce very fast results. Although the slow-release capability with respect to nutrients is a positive of organic fertilizers but it can also be potentially harmful to plants. The slow release of nutrients might prove as a hindrance to an immediate need of a supply of nutrients, which chemical fertilizers can provide as per the situation and demand.
There are various negatives of chemical fertilizers as well. Due to their fast action, the nutrients are released too quickly, creating a great deal of top growth before the roots are able to catch up. This kind of growth results in the development of weaker plants. Also, it is quite easy to over apply chemical fertilizers and this can cause root burn or concentration of toxic salts in the plants. These fertilizers also do not improve the structure of the soil. In fact, chemical fertilizers are made up of high concentrations of mineral salts and are capable of killing soil organisms that help in decomposition and soil breakdown leading to a more compact soil which is unable to hold moisture and nutrients. Also, these fertilizers are more expensive since they have to be purchased from a gardening store or horticulturists. Research has shown that organic fertilizers cost 66 percent less than chemical fertilizers.
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