Fertilizer prices are rising faster than those of almost any other raw material used by farmers. In April, farmers paid 65% more for fertilizer than they did a year earlier, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That compares with price increases of 43% for fuel, 30% for seeds and 3.8% for chemicals such as weedkillers and insecticides over the same period, according to Agriculture Department indexes.
Those skyrocketing costs are making it harder for farmers to expand their harvests in response to the global food crisis that has sparked rioting, rationing and export controls in many countries. Food prices have soared in recent months as the world's growing demand for grain, which has exceeded production for much of this decade, has reduced stockpiles to extremely low levels...
Major fertilizer producers deny any allegations of gouging. They say they are simply raising prices to reflect tight supplies and growing demand after years of relatively low prices.
But there's an unusual piece in the pricing puzzle: In several countries, obscure laws shield makers of potash and phosphate from certain antitrust rules. In the U.S., for example, phosphate makers are among a handful of industries empowered by the 1918 Webb-Pomerene Act to talk with competitors about pricing and other issues...
Phosphate, a mineral found in fossilized marine life, provides essential nutrients for plant-cell development, while potash, a rock mined from the earth, helps plants grow strong. Prices of both are climbing faster than those of nitrogen, which is manufactured in a process that requires lots of natural gas.
In North America, nitrogen fertilizers are applied liberally to corn and wheat fields. Urea, a nitrogen-carrying fertilizer, is selling for around $600 a ton, twice the price a year ago, mostly because of a steep run-up in natural-gas prices.
The price of phosphate has climbed to about $1,000 a ton, up from $365 last year, according to Green Markets, a trade publication, while the price of a ton of potash is now more than $700, up from $230.
Even though - like with oil, we're consuming the biomass of What Went Before, and therefore yet another leading indicator of how screwed we are, I realized that this is one possible solution to the problem...:
... A hospital lobby. A line of people are being ushered through. A sign says 'Blood Donors' with an arrow in the direction they're all going. Mr Samson is in a white coat.
Samson Blood donors that way, please.
Donor Oh thank you very much (joins the line).
Samson Thank you. (Grimshaw comes up to him and whispers in his ear, Samson looks at him, slightly surprised) What? (Grimshaw whispers again) No. No, I'm sorry but no. (Grimshaw whispers again) No, you may not give urine instead of blood. (Grimshaw whispers again) No, well, I don't care if you want to. (Grimshaw whispers again) No. There is no such thing as a urine bank.
Samson No. We have no call for it. We've quite enough of it without volunteers coming in here donating it.
Grimshaw Just a specimen.
Samson No, we don't want a specimen. We either want your blood or nothing.
Grimshaw I'll give you some blood if you'll give me...
Grimshaw A thing to do some urine in.
Samson No, no, just go away please.
Grimshaw Anyway, I don't want to give you any blood.
Samson Fine, well you don't have to, you see, just go away.
Grimshaw Can I give you some spit?
Samson No, look, this is a blood bank - all we want is blood.
Grimshaw All right, I'll give you some blood.
He holds out a jar full of blood.
Samson Wher did you get that?
Grimshaw Today. It's today's.
Samson What group is it?
Grimshaw What groups are there?
Samson There's A...
Grimshaw It's A.
Samson (sniffing the blood) Wait a moment. It's mine. This blood is mine! What are you doing with it?
Grimshaw I found it.
Samson You found it? You stole it out of my body, didn't you?
Samson No wonder I'm feeling off-colour. (he starts to drink the blood; Grimshaw grabs the bottle) Give that back.
Grimshaw It's mine.
Samson It is not yours. You stole it.
Samson Give it back to me.
Grimshaw All right. But only if I can give urine.
Samson ...Get in the queue.