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TFI: Farmers doubled corn with less fertilizer after ’80


Iowa Correspondent

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Between 1980-2010, U.S. farmers nearly doubled corn production using slightly fewer fertilizer nutrients than were used in 1980, according to The Fertilizer Institute (TFI).

TFI’s June 1 announcement is based on fertilizer application rate data released by the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, which claimed sustainable farming is occurring through voluntary nutrient stewardship efforts.
“Farmers across the country, including in the watersheds that drain to the Chesapeake Bay and the Mississippi River, can be proud that their adoption of site-specific nutrient management,” said Ford West, president of TFI, based in Washington, D.C.

“Their use of higher-yielding varieties of corn (is) making a substantial and even massive contribution to the effort to reduce nutrient losses to waters across the nation.”

In 1980, TFI said U.S. farmers grew 6.64 billion bushels of corn using 3.2 pounds of nutrients (such as nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium) for each bushel.

Then, in 2010, they grew 12.45 billion bushels using 1.6 pounds of nutrients per bushel produced.

“In total, this represents an 87.5 percent increase in production with 4 percent fewer nutrients during that same timeframe,” with corn production accounting for half of U.S. fertilizer use, a TFI statement read.
Experts estimated 40-60 percent of world food production is attributable to fertilizers.

“Fertilizer nutrients are essential components in food, feed, fiber and fuel production, and we anticipate that maximizing production from future new seed varieties will require a diet that can only be met through the use of commercially-produced fertilizers,” West said.

Each additional bushel of corn produced through these efficiencies can in turn produce six 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, the data claimed.

Fertilizer use has been under intense scrutiny for its potential impact on water bodies such as the Chesapeake Bay and the Gulf of Mexico, West said. Last November, TFI and 29 other agricultural and forestry organizations submitted comments to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regarding water quality regulations TFI proposed for the Chesapeake Bay.

The comments from TFI and these environmental groups concerned the EPA’s draft of Total Maximum Daily Load requirements for the Bay, “while calling attention to the significant contributions of agriculture to improvements to water quality in the Chesapeake Bay.”

TFI said the Bay issue is just one example of how the USDA data demonstrates that farmers are “caring for the nation’s water resources in large part through voluntary efforts.”

Launched in April, TFI’s new website at is design-ed to serve as “an online clearinghouse for information on 4R-related tools and resources and will serve as the cornerstone for a multifaceted nutrient stewardship initiative.”

In addition to introducing visitors to the 4R concept – which is “Right fertilizer source at the Right rate, at the Right time and in the Right place” – the website offers information regarding a wide range of agronomic topics related to nutrient management, and provides a how-to guide for implementing the 4Rs on the farm.

“We’re in a time in agriculture where the risk of making the wrong decision when it comes to nutrient management is greater than ever before,” said Steve Phillips, International Plant Nutrition Institute director for the southern U.S.
Phillips said “agriculture is facing increasing regulatory pressure to limit the use of crop nutrients and those factors make right now the right time for promoting increased awareness and adoption of 4R nutrient stewardship.”

West said the USDA data is “a triumph of the role of science and economics in sustainable farming and expect that through the more widespread adoption of 4R nutrient stewardship, farmers and the fertilizer industry will continue to help feed a growing world population.”

Representing the nation’s fertilizer industry, TFI is comprised of producers, wholesalers, retailers and trading firms, with a full-time staff serving in various legislative, educational and technical areas, as well as with information and public relations programs.