Nieuws - 23 juni 2011


When Justus Freiherr von Liebig discovered artificial fertilizer in 1860, no one could imagine that this discovery would unleash an agricultural revolution.

Initial reactions were lukewarm; witness the 1859 Dutch report on the state of agriculture which expressed a preference for plain farmyard manure. The only exception was the guano imported from South America, ‘which worked satisfactorily on buckwheat grown on the lower Veluwe'. But from the end of the 19th century, more and more artificial fertilizer was used to raise agricultural production. This gave millions of people access to sufficient food, so they no longer had to eke out a meagre living on the margins of society. Wageningen, first as an agricultural college and then as a university and network of institutes, has been in the vanguard of these developments and has become world-famous for its work.
But there is another side to the coin, of course: the undesirable enrichment of air, soil and water with nitrogen. Fertilizer turned out to be bad news for nature. In the form of nitrate, nitrogen poses a steadily bigger threat to the quality of drinking water, while in the form of ammonia it leads to acidification. As early as 1959, Victor Westhoff spoke in terms of ‘black breath' in an article in De Levende Natuur (Living Nature). What should be done? In my opinion, Wageningen should take the lead again in tackling the problems. Major changes are needed. So let us start another revolution. Nature and landscape on the one hand, and health and welfare on the other, are crying out for creative thinkers and actors.