An element imperative to New Zealand plant life is in rapid decline, but one researcher has told On The Land’s Rob Cope-Williams that knowing about these low reserves is a good thing.
Like oil, phosphorus is at peak levels and there’s worldwide concern that the reserves are disappearing faster than anyone was expecting.
Lincoln University researcher Leo Condron says we import 1 million tonnes of phosphate rock a year, which makes us a relatively small user, but New Zealand is very dependant on it, and it’s essential to keep agriculture in this country running.
It wasn’t until around 2007 when, for a number of reasons, the price of phosphorus tripled in six months.
“That sharp increase in price focused the attention on how much phosphorus was there available in the world and when were we going to run out, potentially,” Condron says.
A university in Sydney, used a combination of data and predicted the world was going to reach ‘peak phosphorus’ at around 2030. “This sent alarm bells through the system… people hadn’t even thought about this before,” he says.
Subsequently, the price has come down but it hasn’t gone back to the same levels they once were. It turns out the price hike was imperative learning for the agriculture industry.
Condron says “That price spike is the best thing in terms of phosphorus in a long, long time, because it’s meant that we appreciate it now. And the really great thing about phosphorus is that the vast majority of it, that is put on as fertiliser, is still in the soil.”
More than half the world’s phosphorus reserves are in one location – Morocco. While this puts a lot of strain on one country, there is now a big move for explorations of phosphate reserves, including Chatham Rise (an area of ocean floor to the east of New Zealand that stretches for some 1000 kilometres), and there are also deposits off Mexico and Namibia, which are being investigated – which once wouldn’t have thought of as being economic.