Differences Between Fertilizers Derived from Organic and Synthetic Sources- Milorganite Agronomist
July 3, 2017
The health of the soil—its ecosystem—is the most important factor to growing healthy lawns and plants. All fertilizers, whether derived from organic or synthetic sources, provide nutrients necessary for plants to grow. So, what’s the difference?
First, it’s important to understand the terminology. It’s confusing because the word “organic” is used in two very different ways and we tend to use it interchangeably, which is incorrect.
When it comes to fertilizer, “organic” refers to the source of the fertilizer’s nutrients. The nutrients in organic fertilizers are derived from natural plant or animal sources and their byproducts, which includes things such as worm castings (worm poop), horse manure, byproducts from wastewater treatment, as well as other natural materials. Not all fertilizers derived from organic sources can be used to grow produce that is “certified organic,” including biosolids, from which Milorganite is made.
“Organic certification” is strictly regulated by the United State Department of Agriculture (USDA) and recognizes four categories: crops; livestock; processed products; and, wild crops. Certification verifies that a “farm or handling facility complies with the USDA organic regulations.” Organic certification does NOT cover fertilizers of any kind, even those derived from organic sources.
- Organic fertilizers are derived from natural sources.
- Organic certification covers the process of how crops, livestock, and products are produced.
Synthetic fertilizers, sometimes called chemical or inorganic, are manufactured from mineral deposits, petroleum by-products, gasses from the air, and other materials.
Plants can’t tell the difference between the source of the nutrients since they’re processed by the plants in the same way, but that’s where similarities end. There are advantages and disadvantages to both types of fertilizer. Here’s a quick comparison to help you better understand the difference.
Fertilizers derived from organic materials
Fertilizers derived from organic sources are made from living things or their byproducts, including animal matter, manure, and vegetable matter, such as compost, cover crops, as well as microbes, which have digested organic matter in wastewater.
Here’s a list of some fertilizers derived from organic sources:
- biosolids, such as Milorganite
- blood and bone meal
- cottonseed and soybean meal
- composted manure
- mushroom compost
- worm castings
The greatest advantage of organic fertilizers is their overall contribution to the soil’s ecosystem and support of long-term soil fertility. They are also far less likely to leach or run off into waterways. They often provide some of the 13 micronutrients plants need to grow and remain healthy. Organic fertilizers help feed the abundant microbes and other critters that maintain soil fertility. Results from using organic fertilizers may take longer to see but are effective longer.
Fertilizers derived from synthetic sources
Synthetic fertilizers are made from processed inorganic minerals and compounds, including petroleum, minerals, and gases from the air. They’re composed primarily of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (N-P-K) and generally don’t include micronutrients or offer much at all to maintain the soil’s ecosystem. Synthetic fertilizers are good if you want to quickly see results.
Milorganite has some of the best qualities of both types of fertilizer. It’s a convenient, pelletized fertilizer derived from organic materials. The organic materials help keep the soil fertile and conditioned to retain water. Its nutrient analysis (N-P-K) is consistent and contains non-staining iron. It’s derived from dead microbes, so it won’t burn lawns or plants. It’s also cost effective, easy to apply, and readily available in convenient, large bags for homeowners.
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