Science: The Secret Link in the Fertilizer Value Chain

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July 27, 2017

When most people think about fertilizer (if they even think about fertilizer), they probably imagine lush green lawns, mulch, tractors spraying fields, and quite possibly even manure.

Science never even enters that picture. However, the truth is, without science agriculture wouldn’t be as productive as it is today. Technological advances have allowed us to produce the modern fertilizers that are responsible for 50 percent of the food grown in the world today.

The Haber-Bosch process gave us the ability to produce ammonia nitrogen fertilizers. New seed varieties help us grow crops that use nutrients more efficiently. And today, science is helping the fertilizer industry understand how to apply nutrients in the most sustainable way, ensuring outcomes that are economically and environmentally positive.

Sustainable fertilizer use is all about making sure that nutrients that are applied are used by growing crops and not lost to the environment. That’s taking place. When compared to 1980, U.S. farmers have more than doubled corn production while using just 6.9 percent more fertilizer. Looking from a different angle, farmers today are using 42 percent less nitrogen, 59 percent less phosphorus, and 63 percent less potassium to produce a bushel of corn than they were 37 years ago.

The fertilizer industry is a solution seeker. We believe that scientific research is essential to ensuring that farmers have the information and tools necessary to feed a growing population sustainably. We also partner with NGOs such as The Nature Conservancy to educate farmers and stakeholders about sustainable farming with 4R Nutrient Stewardship (use of the right source of fertilizer at the right rate, the right time and in the right place).

The industry does more than talk about research. Our investment has leveraged $11 million to support research projects, including in several states whose waters flow into the Mississippi River and Lake Erie.

Weather patterns have always had a significant impact on farm sustainability, and better knowledge about these patterns – brought on through scientific research- is providing farmers with the tools necessary to time fertilizer application to crops’ changing needs throughout the planting season.

Even the best science can’t predict the future with 100 percent certainty, and the assumptions about what weather, technology and agriculture will look like decades from now should not be viewed in isolation, or as a basis for policy solutions.

More research is needed and Congress should ensure that the government continues to provide researchers with the resources necessary to ensure that U.S. farmers have the information they need to continue an upward trajectory of efficiency.