Reducing Fertilizers Cuts Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Wednesday, June 11, 2014


When people think about the causes of global warming, the food they eat typically doesn’t make the short list. But agriculture is responsible for 80 percent of human-caused emissions of nitrous oxide, which is a greenhouse gas 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

And now a new study by researchers at Michigan State University shows that using more fertilizers than crops need is even more harmful to the climate than previous estimates indicated.

The study, published online this week (June 9) in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, used data from 84 agricultural fields around the world to measure the nitrous oxide emissions from fertilizer application on farms.

The researchers, led by Phil Robertson, found that when farmers try to maximize their yields by applying more fertilizer than their crops need, the nitrous oxide emissions can be 20-to-50 percent greater than previously estimated.

That’s a big deal.

In another study published this year, ecologist Nathan Mueller at Harvard University found that it’s actually possible to maintain the same levels of production of corn and other crops while cutting in half the use of nitrogen fertilizer.

Over-fertilizing crops is bad for the climate and the planet. 

So, why are some members of Congress proposing to cut federal programs to reward farmers who target fertilizer applications?

These members are helping fertilizer sales soar as the planet cooks.



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