Sunday, March 7, 2010

Cold Wet Spring Makes for Late Fertilizing in 2010

All the model predictions in the world can project or predict warming temperatures, but the reality is found on the farms. Farmers deal with reality every day of every year. Their reality for this year is that they did not achieve proper nitrogen applications last Fall due to cold and rain that made harvesting the corn very difficult. Now, their fields are covered in snow and will be too wet for nitrogen application. And all this, in a global warming condition. Or so the IPCC, Al Gore, the US EPA, and California experts who wrote AB 32 tell us.

The nitrogen application (see photo below) is in the form of liquid anhydrous ammonia, chemical formula NH3. This is the most economic and practical form of nitrogen fertilizer application, as farmers would certainly use another method if it was better. As an aside, NH3 is a major industrial chemical, made in ammonia plants from natural gas. The natural gas (chemical composition CH4) is split in a methane reformer plant into Carbon and Hydrogen. The carbon is reacted with oxygen to form CO2 that is released into the atmosphere. The hydrogen is then reacted with pure Nitrogen to form ammonia. The ammonia is purified, cooled and liquefied, and shipped to the farms. The Nitrogen is produced in an air separation plant by several stages of cooling and chilling until nitrogen and oxygen are liquefied and purified. Each of these processes, air separation and ammonia manufacturing, requires great amounts of energy input. The energy is almost always natural gas for an ammonia plant, and can be electricity for the air separation plant.

(note, the wikipedia article linked above for ammonia plants states that hydrogen will be produced from electrolysis of water rather than reforming of methane. That is a possibility, but would increase the cost of hydrogen many times over. Hydrogen from water is one of the most expensive forms of hydrogen ever devised.)

IFT photos by Gene Lucht

As electrical power prices increase due to mandated renewable energy production levels, the price of ammonia will increase. When and if cap and trade is mandated for CO2 emissions, ammonia plants must increase the price of their product to cover the additional costs of capturing and sequestering the CO2 that is produced.

And thus, corn prices will increase, cattle feed cost will increase, food prices will increase for milk and beef and other animal products that are dependent on corn for feed. Interestingly, ethanol from corn will also increase in price, thus increasing the price of gasoline for all consumers.

As the Spring planting season nears for 2010, we will see exactly how the global warming from man-made CO2 emissions affects the farmers. The IPCC reports predicted longer growing seasons, hotter summers, and more tropical climates farther north than we have ever seen. Perhaps an IPCC author should visit Iowa this Spring, and talk to some farmers about how warm their farms are, and how short their growing seasons have been lately.

Roger E. Sowell, Esq.
Marina del Rey, California

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