The turnip, it turns out, is a dope addict. Other plants in the suspected ring of air-pollution junkies range from cotton to corn to pine trees.
That's the word from the Tennessee Valley Authority's world-renowned fertilizer research facility here, which reports that man's efforts to keep noxious sulfur dioxide gases out of your lungs is giving the plant addicts withdrawal symptoms that show up chiefly as declines in crop yields.
J.C. Noggle, a TVA soil chemist, said in an interview he has proved that plants are compensating for losses of sulfur nutrients in the soil by absorbing sulfur dioxide and hydrogen sulfide gases directly from the garbage can that coal-fired power plants, and other polluters, which TVA has a lot of, have created in the atmosphere.
Air cleanup, which Noggle says he supports, will make it necessary to put sulfur back into farm fertilizers so they will give plants the vital nutrients they need for photosynthesis -- the process by which plants use light to grow.
Noggle estimated the consequence of not alerting farmers to the problem is a 10 percent decline in the yields of cotton, corn and soybeans, costing $306.8 million a year in the seven-state TVA region for those three crops alone.
Using an elaborate test that involved charcoal-filtered air in a greenhouse and radioactive sulfur 31 as a tracer, Noggle said he proved that the turnip was right in there with cabage, wheat, alfalfa and the other crops in a pollution culture dependent on a kind of "sulfur connection" in the heavens.
The decline in the use of manure and fertilizers containing sulfur would already have resulted in serious soil sulfur deficiencies all across the country, Noggle said, except that "we began burning more fossil fuels that result in atmospheric sulfur at about the same time we began decreasing the amount of sulfur we were returning to the soil in fertilizers."
With the cleanup of TVA's coalfired boilers, which the Environmental Protection Agency estimates supplies the South with 52 percent of its utility-generated sulfur gases and the nation with about 8 percent of its supply, Noggle has projected a need for 10 to 40 pounds of sulfur per acre to keep plants busy synthesizing highquality proteins and generally carrying on with photosynthesis.
"When most people think of fertilizers, they think of only the big three -- nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium," the scientist said, "but sulfur ranks fourth in importance."
Noggle said he did not want his research to be used as a part of TVA's old argument against air cleanup. He just does not want some of his favorite plants to suffer needlessly.
A spokesman for TVA's National Fertilizer Development Center, which controls patents on more than 75 percent of the world's chemical fertilizers, said the laboratory is already busily working on new feritlizers containing sulfur.