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By Gemma Q. Casas

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, Jan. 4) – A Northern Marianas College agricultural and soil scientist says lava rock, which is abundant on Pagan Island, could also be a potential source of income for the cash-strapped CNMI government if it could be successfully sold as organic fertilizer.

"If the lava rock from Pagan can be shown to be a useful organic fertilizer, the mining of this volcano will produce taxable income for the people of the CNMI for years to come. The lava rock on Mount Pagan looks like a superhighway winding several miles down from the summit to the airport," Dr. Craig Smith told Marianas Variety.

Smith explained the lava rock belongs to a class of organic fertilizers known as rock powders.

In studies he conducted in 2002 and 2003, Smith said he found that the lava rock produced on Pagan Island has a strong "paramagnetism" quality which some organic farmers look for.

"When the molten lava is oozing down the side of a volcano, its magnetic charge is aligned with the magnetic fields of the earth. As the lava solidifies, this magnetic orientation is fixed within the newly-formed lava rock," said Smith.

"This type of magnetism known as "paramagnetism" is measured with a special meter in a unit called "cgs." The lava rock from Pagan Island averages 7,000 cgs, compared with 3,000 cgs in most lava rock fertilizers.... Of greater interest to organic gardeners is whether plants will grow better when lava rock from Pagan Island is mixed with soil," he added.

The scientist is conducting more research this year to verify whether the lava rock found on Pagan can be certified as useful organic fertilizer.

"A number of fertilizers have been granted the title of "organic," including lava rock. Each separate mine must apply for organic certification," he said.

"If the mine’s history can be proven to have no synthetic chemicals involved, it may be awarded the right to be classified as "certified organic," he added.

January 4, 2005

Marianas Variety: www.mvariety.com

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