Farm Life

Organic Farming and the Introduction of Chemical Fertilizers

an excerpt from: Georgia Professor Emeritus Peter Hartel

I recently listened to a presentation by Peter Hartel who gave an overview of the introduction of man-made fertilization in the early 1800’s.

Beginning with Justus von Liebig, here was a man who discovered that nitrogen is an essential soil nutrient. This discovery prompted him to write ‘The Law of Minimum’ which states that plant growth is controlled by the least available essential nutrient. He was a well respected soil chemist and biologist who ultimately became known as ‘The Father of the fertilizer industry’.

Fritz Haber was another soil chemist and soil biologist  who developed the Haber Process.  He discovered that nitrogen is a triple bonded molecule, meaning that it’s very difficult to break apart. Along with this realization he found that when enough energy (heat and pressure) is introduced to nitrogen in the presence of hydrogen, the nitrogen can then be released resulting in ammonia. This Haber Process initiated the modern fertilization process that supports over 1/2 the food consumed today.  It also requires 1-2% of the world’s annual energy supply. Fritz Haber won the Noble Prize in 1918 for his discovery.

Next came Rudolf Steiner, another soil chemist and biologist. In the early days of fertilization implementation farmers approached Steiner with their experiences applying this new chemical fertilizer.  They complained that the food they were growing with chemical fertilization did not result in the same quality and taste as previously grown crops. Steiner concluded that the reason for this was that chemical fertilizers could only produce ‘spiritually and nutritionally deficient food’. He suggested thinking of a farm more holistically, more as an entire organism. Rudolf Steiner became the founder of Biodynamic Farming, better known today as Organic Farming.


Here’s a kindred spirit, follow your bliss!