Flindt on Friday: (Net) zero to agri-hero in blink of an eye

Well, that escalated quickly (as young people say in their “memes”). No sooner had we finished pondering the unintended consequences of going glyphosate-free, than another example of “give ’em what they want” came hurtling over the hill.

The next item on the list called “vital components of modern industrial agriculture that some insist we could do without” is artificial fertiliser. 

See also: How a living mulch can help farmers cut their fertiliser bill

As with the drying up of glyphosate supplies, it appears that we might be about to have a very interesting trial run of life without it.

Mind you, I have to admit that the whole fertiliser crisis caught me a bit by surprise. We’ve had an easy couple of years with our liquid stuff.

Towards the end of 2019, I ordered the winter “tank fill”, and then forgot all about the rest. By the time spring came round and I needed to order the bulk of the year’s supplies, the price had crashed, and I felt very smug.

Come autumn 2020, the price was still historically low, so I booked what I thought I’d need and a bit over, sure that the hideous winter and spring of 2019-20 would never be repeated, and we’d have fields of verdant stuff that would justify some full-whack rates.

Dreams v reality

Of course, it didn’t turn out like that. By May, when I’d given the crops all they could justify, the phone rang. “You do know you’ve got a lorry outstanding?” pointed out the buying group fert man. “Do you want it?”

I said no, and then rang the fertiliser company’s rep to apologise for not taking the last load.

He was still keen to get it into our tank, but I pointed out that we like to minimise the time our tank is full. The world is not what it was.

“Fair enough,” he said, and the last cheap load was cancelled. Not, as it turned out, my finest business decision.

When Hazel emerged from her chambers in the West Wing early the other morning, suggesting that I catch up with the latest doom-laden news about fertiliser, I had a bit of a panic, having done nothing about ordering up for the forthcoming season.

I did some sums on the back page of The Daily Vegan (once known as The Times) and rang the buying group as early as I dared. It was engaged, of course – for ages.

Once I did get through, things sounded a bit fraught at the other end. Yes, I was caller number 100. Yes, the rumours were true.

No, they hadn’t got prices or availability yet. Yes, they would put us down for 150cu m and hope for the best. Now would I mind bogging off?

Back to the future

Interesting times, as they say. All those years neglecting natural gas are finally catching up with us.

Shortage of gas equals a shortage of industrial fertiliser, and we need industrial fertiliser to feed an industrial world. (That noise you can hear is the outrage of those who demand a return to subsistence farming.)

A short, sharp spell with a severe shortage of gas is going to open a few eyes, and we farmers will have a front-row seat as the truth dawns. Let’s give them what they want, and watch.

Finally, let’s hear it for carbon dioxide, which for too many years has been demonised as the source of all the world’s ills, but is now suddenly the most popular and essential gas EVAH – so popular (and vital) that the government has been “doing deals” (ker-ching) to persuade CO2 plants to restart. And – as the meme says – we never expected that.