Organisation - April 28, 2010

Ash cloud won't fertilize fields

'Ash cloud blessing for farmer', proclaimed de Telegraaf last week, based on information from Jacques Neeteson. 'That was not what I meant', says the agronomist from the Plant Sciences Group. 'The amount was so negligible that it won't have any effect at all on Dutch agriculture. The farmers haven't even noticed it.'

Neeteson had explained to journalists that in theory, the ash from the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland could be good for agriculture. 'The ash contains essential plant nutrients, sulphur in particular. But crop farming and outdoor horticulture will only benefit from it if at least half a kilo of ash falls per square metre. That is a layer of about ten centimetres. About one millimetre of ash has fallen on the Netherlands. I saw a layer on top of my car, although that could have been ordinary dust.'
'Without sulphur, plants cannot thrive. Industrial chimneys used to belch out enough sulphur for agriculture. Environmental measures have cleaned up that source of nutrients. So now sulphur is added in artificial fertilizer.'
Neeteson based his statements of publications from the United States documenting research on the ash from various volcanic eruptions. 'Based on this, what I say is that the volcanic ash can in theory be useful for agriculture. I emphasized that repeatedly to journalists, but it doesn't always come across in their reports.
'Agriculture in Iceland has not benefitted from the ash rain either. So much has fallen there that the crops are covered in several decimetres of grey ash. And what is more, there is Fluor in it, and that is potentially harmful to cows, sheep and horses on the island. Icelandic livestock farmers have therefore kept their stock inside and have spent days rounding up and stabling their animals.'