So, what does any of this have to do with the NPR podcast? The farmer (and the reporters) apparently believe they have escaped the use of "synthetic" fertilizer brought about by the Haber-Bosch process because the farmer's fertilization now relies on manure from chickens. But, where did the nitrogen in the chicken manure come from? The answer is that it came in via the feed the farm bought and brought in from another farm.
Maybe the farmer bought organic corn to feed his chickens. That solves the problem, right? Not exactly. Your see, the organic corn farmer who sold our organic chicken farmer corn undoubtedly used fertilizer. There is a very good chance that this fertilizer was some form of manure. Yet (and this is a very important point), organic rules don't discriminate whether manure comes from an organic or non-organic fed animal. Because there are many, many more non-organic animals, chances are that the manure came from an animal fed non-organic grain. Where did the nitrogen in that non-organic grain and then manure come from? Haber and Bosch.
Thus, even assuming that organic chicken feed was used, there is a very high probability that the nitrogen in the chicken manure that was used on our organic farm featured in the NPR story came from corn that was fertilized with manure that came from a cow or pig or chicken that was fed corn that was fertilized using nitrogen made available via Haber and Bosch.
So, despite what is implied by the journalists (and perhaps even believed by the farmer), we haven't returned to some kind of "natural" nitrogen cycle. We've simply found ways of importing "synthetic" nitrogen into a system that makes it look "natural." This academic paper looking at French farms, for example, calculated that organic farms strongly rely on non-organic farms for their nutrient flows finding on average, 73% of phosphorus, 53% of potassium, and 23% of the nitrogen used in the organic farms in their studies was imported from conventional, non-organic farms via processes like the one I described above. As one writer put it: