Nitrogen fertilizer is in short supply
Yet another phenomenon tightly tied to soaring food prices: the price and availability of fertilizer. Global consumption of cheap chemical fertilizer has leapt an estimated 31 percent from 1996 to 2008, boosting modern agriculture around the world. But now, fertilizer is pricey and in short supply, leaving farmers scrambling to sufficiently feed their crops. “Putting fertilizer on the ground on a one-acre plot can, in typical cases, raise an extra ton of output,” says economist Jeffrey Sachs. “That’s the difference between life and death.” Fertilizer companies say they’re confident that new factories, of which at least 50 are in the works, will solve the problem; they gloss over what’s sure to be a corresponding increase in fossil-fuel dependency and water pollution. In the meantime, some farmers are going back to — gasp! — animal manure to supplement the synthetic stuff.