Why Farmers Hate Using Fertilizer

People are far ahead of the government in demanding the banning of toxics.

by Ingmar Lee

I've been a professional BC silviculture worker since 1979, and since that time I've planted more than 1,000,000 trees. I'm 40 years old, and in spite of having no history of cancer on either side of my family, I've survived three cancer surgeries so far.

Although most of the seedlings we handle at work are sprayed with toxic pesticides, which is something I also despise, the recent insidious introduction of fertilizing at the time of planting has ominous implications beyond our own personal health concerns.

Chemical fertilizers have been making silviculture workers sick. We suffer a variety of health complaints, such as headaches, nausea, vomiting, nosebleeds and skin conditions while dealing with these products at work. There have been no tests to determine what our exposure levels are, and given that we manually contact these products hundreds, and even thousands of times a day while breathing the dust and having it soak into our skin, there are no adequate regulations or specifications for the way we have to handle it.

The limits set are for amounts of heavy-metals per hectare of usage in agriculture and are based on plant uptake concerns. For agricultural purposes these products are usually poured into a hopper and spread by farming machinery where there might be less exposure to the farmer.

I'm not a scientist, but one thing's for sure: If the soil scientists who are justifying the use of chemical fertilizers in our forests really understood the complexities of interactions of the mycelia, mycorrhizae, and elements of decomposition that function symbiotically in organic wilderness soils, they would have figured out how to grow Matsutake and Chanterelle mushrooms commercially.

As it is, this multimillion-dollar industry in BC depends on 100 percent wild organic, naturally grown mushrooms. No one has ever managed to grow truffles commercially. No scientist has figured out how to control armillaria fungus, which is inextricably connected with fir trees and causes them to get "root-rot." Meanwhile, industry has us out there, punching chemical fertilizers every three metres, in a grid, into these most enormous mycelial organisms, which thrive within the thin organic layer of wild forest soils. What is more, just as organic foods have become mainstream during the past 10 years, so too will grow the public demand for organic forest products, and by the time these fertilized plantations "mature" 20-30 years later, there will be no market for the fibre.

There are many reasons to stop the use of these products, which are used to accelerate the growth of our naturally fast-growing forests, but to me the most obvious one has to do with wildlife. Heavy-metal contamination and nitrate pollution will gradually poison the wild animals that wander into the plantations.

We need to conserve as many of the wild, natural features as possible, and this includes all the bacterial and other elements that occur in good, healthy, wild, organic soil. Water that percolates through untrammelled organic and natural mineral soil is pure and pristine, and healthy people have the intestinal flora to handle naturally occurring bacteria, and drink this water freely from BC creeks.

Fertilizers are polluting this water wherever they are being spread in our forests. Gradually, algal blooms and water turbidity, typical symptoms of nutrient-loading by fertilizers, will result in increased eutrophication of our drinking water, resulting in increased use of chlorine, another human carcinogen.

There's a major ground swell across the country right now. People are way ahead of government, and are demanding the banning of pesticides and other toxic chemicals. New, emerging horror stories about carcinogenic qualities, mutations, and endocrine disruption related to reckless chemical use appear each day.

Isn't it clear enough why we have this cancer epidemic?

It's an enormous task to get land certified as organic for the production of fruit and vegetables. Why do we tolerate the defilement of our already purely organic forest soils?

We depend on our forests as places of undefiled pristine sanctity, for pure drinking water, for wildlife, for sustenance, for spiritual reasons, as well as for livelihood. Our forests are already incredibly bountiful in all these areas.

I became a tree planter because it offered the opportunity to earn my living doing something positive and useful, something creative and wholesome and healthy. I want silviculture work to continue to be noble right-livelihood.

I want my work to be recognized as being part and parcel of a wholistically managed working forest. I hate being used as a pawn in the industrial, biotechnological, agro-forestry, Franken-fibre scheme.

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[From WS December 2000/January 2001]

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