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Fertilizer's Role in Record U.S. Corn Production

by Harry Vroomen, Ph. D.

July 31, 2014

In 2013, farmers broke existing corn production records with a harvest of 13.9 billion bushels. Though predictions for the 2014 harvest aren’t quite that high, the USDA is still estimating a near record total of 13.86 billion bushels. Nutrients from commercial fertilizer have played a key role in boosting crop production to the record-high levels we are seeing today. In fact, experts report that 40 to 60 percent of all world food production is attributable to fertilizers.

Back in 2011, we reported that over the course of 30 years, from 1980-2010, U.S. crop production nearly doubled thanks to modern fertilizer technologies. In 1980, farmers grew 6.64 billion bushels of corn, using 3.2 pounds of nutrients for each bushel, and in 2010 they grew 12.45 billion bushels using 1.6 pounds of nutrients. This represents an 87.5 percent increase in production with fewer nutrients during the same time frame. Corn production typically accounts for half of U.S. fertilizer use.

The data shows that farmers are using nutrients more efficiently and effectively than ever before. The reduction in nutrient use can be attributed to significant improvements in nutrient technology, as well as the industry’s embrace of responsible nutrient stewardship through programs like 4R nutrient stewardship: using the right nutrient source at the right rate, the right time and in the right place.

The achievement shown in the USDA data is significant for the environmental, social and economic benefits. For example, every additional bushel of corn can in turn produce either 6 pounds of beef, 13 pounds of pork, 20 pounds of chicken, or 28 pounds of fish for dinner plates in the United States and around the world.

Fertilizer already plays an important role in maintaining global crop production at its current levels, and will become even more crucial as crop yields will need to increase to meet world demand for more grain.

Click on the Statistics tab of TFI.org to learn more about fertilizer’s role in increasing U.S. corn production and the history of U.S. fertilizer use.

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