Nicki Atkinson

nickiPhosphate fertilisers are one of the key ingredients that created and remain fundamental to the NZ agricultural economy and in fact the world food source. Ever since the 1930’s the use of phosphate fertilisers has increased pasture and horticultural production and has been vital in the increasing intensification of our agricultural land uses. But at what cost? Phosphate is mined and so its extraction is not only damaging to the environment but it is a finite resource that globally we are running out of. It is therefore critical to look at the efficacy with which we use it. Part of such an analysis is to highlighting the unintended consequences of its use; namely phosphates role in the eutrophication of lakes and waterways and the accumulation of the heavy metal cadmium in agricultural soils (which is a toxic impurity within phosphate). Furthermore, there is evidence to suggest that the rate at which we apply phosphate as a fertiliser is well in excess of what is optimal to produce the maximum grass growth. If that is the case, does NZ’s use of phosphate fertilisers fit Ronald Wright’s definition of a Progress Trap? Given our knowledge of the phosphate cycle, is there a sensible way to avoid such a trap?

See here for information on her creative thesis work on the documentary on freshwater health:  Beneath the Surface