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Solving the Mystery of Fertilizer Loss from Midwest Cropland

Farmers cannot predict their annual corn harvest with certainty, but with the help of new research from Michigan State University (MSU), they can now pinpoint specific parts of their fields that consistently produce either good or bad yields. Not only will this save them time and money, it will solve one of the most widespread environmental problems facing crop-producing regions – nitrogen loss.

Dr. Bruno Basso, MSU professor of ecosystems science, and his team discovered that almost all fields have certain areas with consistently low or high yields. That means much of the fertilizer added to low-yielding areas will go unused and be lost to the environment. At the same time, unused nitrogen is lost to the environment rather than taken up by the crop. The study shows that lost nitrogen from 10 Midwest states totals nearly $1 billion of wasted fertilizer and 6.8 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually.

NIFA supports this research through the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative.

Read the journal article in Nature.

Want to read about more impacts like this? Check out Fresh from the Field, a weekly bulletin showcasing transformative impacts made by grantees funded by NIFA.

Farm Bill Priority Areas
Plant health, production, and products;
Agriculture economics and rural communities
U.S. States and Territories
Michigan
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