Our English vocabulary selection today regards fertilizer. You know, fertilizer, the stuff you add to the ground where you are growing plants to make them grow better, and faster.
Fertilizer is a very relevant topic since there is now a global shortage of this important product because of disruptions in the supply chain caused by Russia’s war in Ukraine. Today, I will teach you some vocabulary that you’ll need to know in order to read and talk about this issue in English.
But before we begin with the lesson, let me remind you that if you are listening to this lesson on an audio podcast, you can also find this lesson on video on my webpage englishforeconomists.com. Using video is a different –– and effective –– way to study, so make it part of your study strategy. You will find all my video lessons at www.englishforeconomists.com.
Okay. Let’s get started with the key vocabulary, then you’ll hear a short text for listening practice. In the end, at the end, we’ll review one last time.
- Synthetic fertilizer: Chemically manufactured fertilizer containing one or more of the primary nutrients necessary for plant growth: nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.
- Crop: A cultivated plant that is grown as food, especially a grain, fruit, or vegetable.
- Soil: The black or dark brown material where plants grow.
- Harvest: the process or period of gathering crops.
- Replenish: To restore to a previous level or condition.
- Nutrient: A substance that provides nourishment essential for growth and life.
- Leafing: The period when plants put out new leaves.
- Food growers: This includes the companies, the farmers, and the workers who produce food.
- Manure: Animal dung, which is a polite way to describe what comes out of the back end of a cow. Manure can be used as an organic fertilizer.
- Compost: Decomposed plant and food waste. Compost can be used as an organic fertilizer.
- Bone meal: Crushed bone. Bone meal can be used as an organic fertilizer.
To grow healthy crops full of nutrients, food growers need to make sure they have healthy soil. The problem is that when crops are harvested, important nutrients are removed from the soil. That’s because those nutrients are now in the food you eat. So, to put nutrients back into the soil, food producers add synthetic or organic fertilizer.
Fertilizer is most effective when used on plants at their peak growing period. This is when the plant is leafing, flowering, or putting on new growth after winter.
Did you know that bananas consume the most fertilizer by a very large margin? Citrus crops, like oranges, are next, followed by vegetables, tubers, and grains. Peas and beans require very little fertilizer –– less than 10% of what bananas need. That’s because peas and beans can absorb nitrogen from the air –– something the other plants can’t do.
According to a recent article in Bloomberg, fertilizer prices have surged after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine pushed up the cost of natural gas, the main input for most nitrogen fertilizer. This has forced some producers in Europe to cut output. To make matters worse, potential sanctions on Russia, which is a big exporter of every major kind of crop nutrient, could further disrupt global trade.
In some countries, the fertilizer shortage may become a national security crisis, since smaller crop yields will lead to higher prices for consumers, and lower incomes for food producers.
This current shortage and price of commercially produced and imported fertilizer may encourage policymakers to rethink policies regarding the promotion and use of organic fertilizer, such as manure, compost, and bone meal, among other alternative products.
That’s all for today. If you liked this lesson, and would like to learn more vocabulary related to agriculture and food, check out our lesson on Food Insecurity. And remember, you can always reach me here if you’d like to ask a question or if you have any comments about English for Economists.