GOP: U.S. must end its addiction to foreign fertilizer

A 50-page party platform is bound to contain a few head-scratchers, and the Republican policy manifesto released on Tuesday doesn’t disappoint. There’s the vague reference to "Russian activism" in a list of the "gravest threats to our national security this country has faced," and the claim that the Venezuelan government is issuing "Venezuelan passports or ...

REMY GABALDA/AFP/Getty Images
REMY GABALDA/AFP/Getty Images
REMY GABALDA/AFP/Getty Images

A 50-page party platform is bound to contain a few head-scratchers, and the Republican policy manifesto released on Tuesday doesn't disappoint. There's the vague reference to "Russian activism" in a list of the "gravest threats to our national security this country has faced," and the claim that the Venezuelan government is issuing "Venezuelan passports or visas to thousands of Middle Eastern terrorists."

But the Washington Post's Brad Plumer spots another one today. In a section on natural resources, the platform declares:

Our dependence on foreign imports of fertilizer could threaten our food supply, and we support the development of domestic production of fertilizer.

A 50-page party platform is bound to contain a few head-scratchers, and the Republican policy manifesto released on Tuesday doesn’t disappoint. There’s the vague reference to "Russian activism" in a list of the "gravest threats to our national security this country has faced," and the claim that the Venezuelan government is issuing "Venezuelan passports or visas to thousands of Middle Eastern terrorists."

But the Washington Post‘s Brad Plumer spots another one today. In a section on natural resources, the platform declares:

Our dependence on foreign imports of fertilizer could threaten our food supply, and we support the development of domestic production of fertilizer.

It’s not entirely clear how fertilizer wiggled its way into the party platform, but the topic does fit into larger discussions on both sides of the aisle about how the United States can realize the elusive goal of energy independence (in fact, U.S. officials have been warning about fertilizer dependence since at least 1978). Nitrogen fertilizer production requires natural gas, and we’re producing less and less of the crop nutrient at home. As Ford West, the president of the Fertilizer Institute, informed Congess in 2009:

[S]ince 2000, the U.S. nitrogen industry has closed 26 nitrogen fertilizer production facilities, due primarily to the high cost of natural gas. Currently, only 29 nitrogen plants are still operating in the U.S. and presently 55 percent of the U.S. farmer’s nitrogen fertilizer is imported.

U.S. farmers are becoming increasingly dependent on foreign sources of fertilizers from places that offer cheap natural gas like the Middle East, China, Russia and Venezuela.

The Romney campaign, in fact, mentions the ways in which more robust domestic fertilizer manufacturing can spur job growth several time in the energy policy white paper that it released last week (earlier this month, the Ohio-based plant fertilizer producer Scotts Miracle-Gro donated $200,000 to the Restore Our Future Super PAC that supports Romney).

Still, don’t expect the platform shout-out to presage a new campaign talking point. Something tells me setting the goal of achieving fertilizer independence by 2020 might be difficult to work into a stump speech.

Uri Friedman is deputy managing editor at Foreign Policy. Before joining FP, he reported for the Christian Science Monitor, worked on corporate strategy for Atlantic Media, helped launch the Atlantic Wire, and covered international affairs for the site. A proud native of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, he studied European history at the University of Pennsylvania and has lived in Barcelona, Spain and Geneva, Switzerland. Twitter: @UriLF

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