Why Transparency With Fertilizer Management Tools Will Benefit Water Quality

Suzy Friedman, Environmental Defense Fund

By Suzy Friedman, director of sustainable agriculture at Environmental Defense Fund

Suzy Friedman, Environmental Defense Fund

By 2050, we will have 2 billion more people on Earth. They will all need to eat. They will all need water. Feeding the planet sustainably is a huge challenge, since food production can have negative environmental impacts such as decreased water quality and air pollution. There is also unprecedented pressure on farmers to produce more while avoiding crises like toxic algal blooms shutting down Toledo, Ohio’s water supply and lawsuits over nitrate levels in drinking water in Des Moines, Iowa.

The good news is that we can have both clean water and a highly productive agricultural system across the U.S. – including in places like the Western Lake Erie Basin, Mississippi River Basin, and Chesapeake Bay. One way we can achieve this vision is through using fertilizer as efficiently as possible.

Fertilizer is one of the most important inputs in agriculture – it allows us to produce as much food as we do. But up to 50 percent of fertilizer applied is not absorbed by crops, leading to runoff of nutrients that causes water pollution and transforms into air pollution in the form of nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas nearly 300 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. Farmers also spend about half of their input costs on fertilizer.

Using fertilizer more precisely and as efficiently as possible is a win for farmers and a win for water quality. Precision agriculture tools can help farmers realize this win-win, but little data is publicly available on how these tools actually work in the field.

Far too often, farmers lack the information they need to make optimal decisions about how to manage their inputs – especially fertilizer – to be both highly productive and environmentally sustainable. That means farmers are making —> Read More