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Nitrogen pollution from fertilizers can be reduced without harming crop yields

Researchers at the University of Vermont have identified the 20 best places to reduce nitrogen pollution from fertilizers without harming crop yields. 

Nitrogen from fertilizers and manure is essential for crop growth, but at high levels, it can cause a host of environmental problems, from air pollution, coastal ‘dead zones,’ biodiversity loss and greenhouse gas emissions. 

According to the researchers, there is a clear opportunity to reduce these emissions by targeting the 20 places where input is the highest. 

The researchers ranked different hotspots across the US and found that a 61-county area across Illinois, Indiana, Missouri and Wisconsin was responsible for 63% of all emissions. 

Because input in these locations is so high, the researchers have said that the farmers can most likely reduce their nitrogen use without harming their crop yields. 

This study was also the first to provide a national analysis of the underlying social, economic and agronomic factors linked to nitrogen balances on croplands at the county-level. Examples of these underlying factors include climate change beliefs, crop mix, precipitation, soil productivity, farm operating expenses, and more.

Lead author of the study, Eric Roy said: ‘This study provides a new perspective on where to focus efforts to tackle America’s nitrogen problems.

‘The U.S. has so many nitrogen trouble zones, and making progress will be easier in some locations than others. That’s why this research is important. It reveals where programs aiming to increase the efficiency of farm nitrogen use are most likely to be successful.’

Co-author of the study, Courtney Hammond Wagner added: ‘This suggests that nitrogen reduction programs-including those that offer farmers’ financial incentives-have the highest potential for success in these 20 regions.’

In related news, in the July issue of the Air Quality News magazine, Air Quality News explored the worrying link between certain air pollutants and our declining natural environment.

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Eric Roy
Eric Roy
6 months ago

The following statement in this article is incorrect: “The researchers ranked different hotspots across the US and found that a 61-county area across Illinois, Indiana, Missouri and Wisconsin was responsible for 63% of all emissions.”

Instead, all 20 hotspots collectively accounted for 63% of total surplus N balance for US croplands. We also provide discussion of where N use reductions are less likely to cause yield declines. More details here: https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/abd662