Anton Nigten: “We need to fertilize differently”

“Our soils are no longer porous, but are densified and hardened, greatly reducing soil life. And our earth can no longer regulate the water content”, says Anton Nigten. “‘Modern agriculture’ in the Netherlands is a legacy of the fifties. Eliminating hunger and feeding a growing world population had the highest priority back then, just as it does now. The solution was found in pesticides and fertilizers. These ‘modern’ farming methods originally produced fantastic results. Yields shot up. The downside was that our thinking about plant nutrition narrowed, and the foundation for plants to grow - the living soil - was destroyed."


“There are at least fifteen ways to fertilize the land, but since the 1950’s, fertilization has been equated with just adding the right salts. Soil life plays absolutely no role in this approach: earth is just seen as a surface. By adding the right salts, humans can steer the entire process, with the idea being that everything except the crops must die. Earlier research was forgotten. Before the war, for example, Wageningen University in the Netherlands did some interesting research which proved that we hardly need to use any potassium as a fertilizer in the Netherlands because the soil is already full of it. Plants provide bacteria and fungi with sugars and other nutrients; in return they release nutrients for the plants, such as potassium and phosphorus. But to get this process going, you need to create the right conditions for the good bacteria to thrive.”


“The problem is that there are too few 'good' bacteria in the soil. The injection of slurry, often in combination with chemical fertilizer, is of great detriment to them. In short, the dung and urine of cows is collected in a pit. This releases hydrogen sulphide, chlorine compounds, nitrous oxide and blue acid compounds. To reduce ammonia emissions, we inject the manure underground. The risk is that even more ammonia - and the like - will be released as there is too little oxygen in the soil."

“Fertilizing differently improves soil quality”

- Anton Nigten, agricultural scientist


“We must take a step back and ask ourselves why manure actually produces ammonia. Cows suffer from rotting in their gastrointestinal tract if the food they receive - grass, corn, power feed - is out of balance. Many animals literally become ill from the grass that they eat. The results from poor digestion is rotting manure. This rotting manure, filled with the "wrong" bacteria and compounds that are poisonous to plants, is then shoved underground, where the rotting process continues. By doing this, we extract the last bit of oxygen from the soil, meaning that further grass and crops will be unbalanced. And so the cycle repeats itself. "

No choice

“Of course, this can change. Firstly, we must stop putting manure underground. The best conversion of plant residues and urine takes place on top of the top layer. An oxygen shortage soon arises underground. We also must give the good bacteria in the manure a chance. You can help this process by enriching feed with auxiliaries such as sea-crop (concentrated sea water where the sodium chloride is largely sifted out) and kaolin clay (very fine clay), and / or by first converting the manure by using manure worms or bokashi (fermenting of organic matter). This creates a lot of aerobic (oxygen-rich) soil life.”
This way of fertilization calls for a different look at 'modern agriculture'. Actually, we have no choice. If we continue down the same path, our soil will only deteriorate further. And we will have more and more out-of-balance crops."

"We must not bury manure underground"

- Anton Nigten, agricultural scientist


Anton Nigten (1952) is an independent agricultural and horticultural researcher. He studied rural sociology of non-Western areas at Wageningen University in the Netherlands. Following his studies, he worked for many years for environmental organizations and trade movements. Since 2003 he has been doing doctoral research (initially at Wageningen, now at Coventry University) on fertilization in both conventional and organic agriculture and horticulture, and the relationship with food and health.