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Iowa Farmers save 216 Million lbs of Nitrogen by reduced Fertilizer use

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JohnWxy Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Apr-12-06 03:23 PM
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Iowa Farmers save 216 Million lbs of Nitrogen by reduced Fertilizer use
This is very interesting article on how the Iowa Agricultural-Energy-Environmental Initiative reduced Nitrogen use by farmers. the Iowa farmers in the study, while using less Nitrogen fertililzer than farmers in neighboring states, achieved higher productivity than farmers in the neighboring states. "It was estimated that every dollar invested in the project returned more than fifteen dollars in savings."

The Iowa farmers in this demonstration project used 18% less fertilizer than farmers in neighboring states but attained higher yields of their crop. The lower application rate (of fertilizer) resulted in a savings of 216 million lbs of nitrogen.

These lower rates of usage of Nitrogen fertilizer are achieved by testing the soil for Nitrogen content before applying fertilizer and timing the application of the fertilizer. The result is a much more effective use of fertilizer and much less wasted fertilizer (and associated run-off).

A significant energy input to the process of making ethanol is the energy required to make the fertilizer used in producing the crop from which the ethanol is made. Savings of fertilizers in the growing of the crop translates directly into making the production of ethanol even more efficient than it has already been shown to be.

I couldn't make a link to the PDF version of this report work but here is the html formatted version:

Reducing Fertilizer use


Reducing Nitrogen Fertilizer Use Iowas extensive programs to reduce pesticide and fertilizer use were bornout of a desire to reduce groundwater contamination but grew to include the protection of all waters. Streams in Iowa have among the highest nitro-gen and phosphorous levels in the country and may contribute one-fourth of all the nitrates washed into the Gulf of Mexico each year.

Beginning in 1982, a series of research and demonstration programs have encouraged farmers to reduce their fertilizer use to improve profit margins and help the environment. In 1987, these programs, developed by numerous organizations, were expanded into the statewide Integrated Farm Management Demonstration Project and the Model Farms Demonstration Project. Funding for these programs expired in 1993, but they continue to have a profound effect on fertilization practices in Iowa.

Collectively known as the Iowa Agricultural-Energy-Environmental Initiative, these programs succeeded in reducing the 1998 nitrogen application rate on corn by 12.5% over the 1985 application rate. In addition to reducing groundwater contamination, farmers achieved lower production costs. It was estimated that every dollar invested in the project returned more than fifteen dollars in savings.

Reduction of nitrogen fertilizer application acts in two ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

First, a small percentage of the nitrogen applied to the soil gets directly converted to nitrous oxide (N2O), a powerful green-house gas.

Second, fertilizers and pesticides derived from fossil fuels make up 75% of the energy inputs in Iowa corn production. By reducing the amount of fertilizer applied, Iowa farmers reduce the amount of energy used to manufacture, ship, and spread fertilizer to their fields each year.


Cost Savings: $32.4 million for Fertilizer        GreenHouse Gas Reductions: 163,000 MTCE*/yr
                   43.2 million gallons of diesel fuel

In 1998, 12.5 million acres of corn were planted in Iowa. Of this area, 96% was treated with commercial nitrogen-basedfertilizers. The average fertilizer application rate was 127 lbs nitrogen (N) per acre, down from 145 lbs N per acre in 1985 (a12% reduction). This rate is 18% less than the rate in surrounding Corn Belt states, which applied an average of 154 lbs N peracre. Despite this drop in nitrogen application, corn yields in Iowa were higher than those in the surrounding states. In 1998, Iowa averaged a corn yield of 145 bushels per acre while other Corn Belt states averaged a yield of 136 bushels per acre.

The lower application rate translates to a savings of 216 million lbs of nitrogen. This is equivalent to a N2O savings of 1,900 metric tons* of N2O or in terms of CO2 equivalents a savings of 597,000 metric tons* (163,000 MTCE*). At a fertilizer price of 15 cents per lb N, the lower application rate saved $32.4 million. Although it is difficult to quantify the energy savings associated with the application of less fertilizer, best estimates indicate that the energy required to manufacture, transport, store, and apply five pounds of nitrogen is equivalent of one gallon of diesel fuel (based on Btu equivalency). Thus, in 1998, lower application rates saved the equivalent of 43.2 million gallons of diesel fuels**.

Principal Actors:

The Iowa State University Agronomy Department developed the programs through the Agricultural EnergyManagement Program. The initiative was financed primarily through oil overcharge funds and the Iowa Ground-water Protection Act funds administered by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. Many other organizationscollaborated in implementing these programs and contributed to their success.
Page 2
Additional Information:

Craig Stark, Program Planner, Iowa Department of Natural Resources, 515-281-4739, [email protected]

This case study is based on information provided by Craig Stark, Iowa Department of Natural Resources and downloaded fromthe Iowa State University Department of Agronomy website:

* Original data have been converted from tons nitrogen applied to metric tons of carbon equivalent (MTCE) based on conversion formulas from the 1999 Emission Inventory Improvement Program Volume XIII as follows:
(formula, wouldn't copy_JW)

** This energy data has not been converted to CO2 savings because it represents estimated energy savings from a variety of different fuels based on BTUs (British thermal units). Because carbon intensity per Btu varies significantly between fuel types, it is difficult to obtain a meaningful value of CO2 savings from this type of estimate. It is included as an indication that theagricultural management programs have achieved significant energy savings as well as nitrogen savings.

This of course, has significance to far more than just ethanol production. This has more significance to our food production since by far, the bulk of agricultural production is for food rather than for ethanol. But it has significance for ethanol in that savings in fertilizer use translates directly into making ethanol production even more efficient than it has already been demonstrated to be.

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Dead_Parrot Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Apr-12-06 03:31 PM
Response to Original message
1. Good god...
...You mean there actually is some sanity in American agribusiness? I'm stunned...

Thanks John, this must be today's quota of good news. :)
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CornField Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Apr-12-06 04:18 PM
Response to Original message
2. This is wonderful for Iowa waterways (and population too)
Each year there are lists of the water areas which are not fit for human recreation because of the runoff. There are 2-3 news stories per year about large fish kills and the subsequent investigations.

Instead of relying solely on nitrogen fertilizer, I wish our farmers would take the time to rotate their crops and animls... well, I guess that would only work if our farmers still had animls to rotate. Nevermind.
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JohnWxy Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Apr-12-06 04:38 PM
Response to Reply #2
3. I have learned that if you cycle corn or wheat with alfalfa you can
significantly reduce the Nitrogen fertilizer needed. The important thing this study showed is you need to measure the soil to see how much Nitrogen is in the soil. You don't need to always "max- out" with the Nitrogen fertilizer.

Also, of course, Low-till, No-till farming techniques and leaving some of the corn stover or other crop waste on the field greatly reduces wind erosion and evaporative losses of water.

These are things the farmer's local fertilizer manufacturer isn't likely to share with him. I'm not a farmer myself but I know how business works (why think of what's good for society when your competitors aren't going to and you'll just be put out of business for doing the right thing?)

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Dead_Parrot Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Apr-12-06 04:49 PM
Response to Reply #2
4. Rotating animals?
Nah, wrong state...

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JohnWxy Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Apr-12-06 07:35 PM
Response to Reply #4
5. Trying to tip a Moose?! - wrong state of MIND!
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dcfirefighter Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Apr-12-06 07:46 PM
Response to Original message
6. Modern US agriculture is Labor efficient
and fairly free with the Land (including energy) and Capital inputs.

Much of our most fertile Land is too expensive to farm.

Shifting taxes from productivity to consumption and occupation of resources would shift agriculture from being Labor efficient to being land efficient.

You'd get higher annual yields per acre with less oil & chemical (and likely water) inputs. You'd have to use more machinery and labor. Instead of planting in neat 1D rows, you'd plant in 2D fields. Instead of planting seed, you might transplant seedlings. Instead of spraying with herbicides, you'd cultivate and weed. Instead of spraying with insecticides, you'd plant a variety of crops (and need the machinery for dealing with each type) such that no one infestation would get out of hand.

Using more labor and machinery means that returns to all labor and machinery would rise. Building machinery employs people.

Using less land and petrochemical inputs means that returns to such woudl fall. No one is employed building land, and most of the 'work' done making petrochemical inputs was done by dead dinosaurs (and plants) ages ago.
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