Sulphur (S)

There are areas in the world where soil selenium levels are so high, they are toxic to ruminants. The local solution is to apply sulphur, which is highly antagonistic to selenium. It is very effective.

In the past 10 years the average UK soil sample has shown a decline in selenium levels commensurate with the proliferation of sulphur-based fertiliser use. Before that it was rare to see Se levels below 0.25ppm although it is now common to see 0.05 down to 0.00 ppm. The situation has worsened for livestock farmers since grassland has also been targeted by the sulphur salesmen. The real reason for the decline of sulphur in arable soils has been monoculture resulting in very low soil organic matter, leading to poor nutrient retention. The cycle of rainfall and plant life and death in permanent pasture ensures sulphur retention and recycling.

The sale of sulphate fertiliser is often based on a false prospectus. Even in the SW, which has never suffered from excess sulphur deposition owing to the prevailing wind direction, farmers are being sold sulphur on the basis that this "vital" resource has been lost to the soil because we have reduced industrial sulphur emissions. Most people are unaware that natural dimethyl sulphur evaporates with water from the oceans and is deposited on the land from the rainclouds that it has seeded.

It is true that with some crops, such as oilseed rape, there is a yield gain to be had from applying sulphur and it is true that milling wheat needs sufficient sulphur to achieve the correct dough elasticity (rheology). It is also true, however, that correct overall mineral balance will achieve a much better yield improvement, thereby proving that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

There is no evidence that the passing of industrial sulphur pollution is being mourned by those Scandinavian countries downwind of our and Germany's emissions, whose forests died and whose livestock and people suffered. In the case of Finland the government has compulsorily added selenium to all fertilisers and animal feeds since 1986 to reduce spiralling heart disease in the human population. This has been successful and the project is now being slowly wound down.

We hope you will forgive our cynicism when we tell you that the oil companies, who tend to own the fertiliser companies, have vast sulphur stockpiles all over the world, generated at their refineries, that no-one hitherto wanted.