Chris Froman, Ellie Baker, Spencer Curl
With seven billion people on the planet today, the demand placed on each acre of farmable land is increasing. The need to produce high quality crops and maintain a healthy eco system will continue to grow with world population. We grew a total of twelve brussel sprout plants; four plants for each group: control, commercial fertilizer, and organic fertilizer. The biomass of each plant was recorded at the beginning of our 5 week experiment and again at the end. There was not a significant growth in biomass from any group, as Brussels sprouts do not develop quickly, and they grow best when planted in mid-summer. Our growing season was mid-autumn, and the cool weather may have suppressed primary growth. However, there were some interesting differences between our plants. The organically fed plants had richly green leaves compared to the control and commercial fertilizer groups, with thicker and more succulent leaves. The other two groups developed yellowing leaves, and the rest of the plant appeared slightly wilted.
The traditional practice of organic farming on a commercial scale was realized in 19401. Commercially grown crops were all produced organically until this era, but when chemically concentrated fertilizers of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium were introduced this method of farming developed a new name. The commercialization of fertilizers began in the mid-19th century, and drastically increased the productivity of farming staple crops across the globe.
Producing high-yielding crops has been a cornerstone of successful civilizations since the dawn of the Neolithic revolution. Evidence of humans using natural growth supplements, such as inedible parts of their crops or animal waste, goes back nearly as far7. Human civilization has a long history of agriculture and the practice of adding nutrient dense soil amendments to increase crop yields. Yet only in the last century has there been a drastic change in the materials and methods of crop production and materials used in soil amendment. And the changes we have seen since the development of these concentrated fertilizers used in industry standard have shown to be harmful not only to the environment, but also to ourselves. Although the development of commercial fertilizer meant increased crop yield, it also meant harming the world we live in; the run off from farms over fertilized with commercial fertilizer has been shown to cause toxic algal blooms in adjacent waterways8. What if we could have the best of both worlds? The high productivity that commercialization brought to the table while also developing an industry standard of sustainably produced crops which nourish life instead of harming it.
The practice of organic agriculture is growing in popularity, organic fruits and vegetables now represent 11% of all US fruit and vegetable sales4. Despite the growth of the organic industry there is still discussion on the benefits of organic agriculture. One study suggests that there is little health benefit to eating plants grown organically5. Another organic farming study found that the yields of rice-wheat rotation crops to be greatly increased with much improved nutritional content within the crop, with the use of organic fertilizer6. In an experiment that looked at the effects of inorganic fertilizer vs. organic fertilizer on arbuscular mycorrhizae it was found that the use of inorganic fertilizer greatly raises the phosphorus content in soil, and therefore inhibits the growth of arbuscular mycorrhizae3. These studies have found there is a significant difference in crop yield when organic fertilizer has been applied instead of a commercial standardized fertilizer.
In this experiment studying the difference in growth of Brussels sprouts treated with organic or inorganic fertilizer, we