Michigan State University researchers are helping solve one of the most widespread environmental problems for crop-producing areas.
By pinpointing parts of a field with nitrogen loss based on which areas consistently produce either good or bad yields, will save farmers time and money.
“Our findings allow farmers to know exactly which portions of their farm fields have stable yields – which allows them to better manage their variable fields to save money, reduce fertilizer losses and lower greenhouse gas emissions.” said Bruno Basso, MSU professor of ecosystems science.
The Spartan lead study shows that lost nitrogen from 10 Midwest states totals nearly $1 billion of wasted fertilizer and 6.8 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually.
Basso’s team used satellite imagery to measure eight years’ worth of sub-yield fields for 70 million acres of farmland in the Midwest.
Scientists confirmed the study with 10 years of ‘field study’ data from more than 1,000 farms.
Based on how much farmers spend on unused fertilizer, the authors found that it is best for farmers and the environment to avoid fertilizing the low yielding areas of each field.
“Nobody wins when fertilizer is wasted on areas that won’t produce. Once farmers identify these areas, they can both save money and help the environment,” said Basso.
According to Basso, it may be better from an economic standpoint to leave these areas unfarmed, to plant them with conservation grasses or in the future, with perennial bioenergy crops.
“What’s best for farmers is also best for the environment,” said Colette St. Mary, a director of the National Science Foundation’s Long-Term Ecological Research program.