Between 1980 and 2010, U.S. farmers nearly doubled corn production using slightly fewer fertilizer nutrients than were used in 1980. The announcement is based on fertilizer application rate data from USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS). Specifically, in 1980, farmers grew 6.64 billion bushels of corn using 3.9 lbs. of nutrients (N, P, K)/bushel. In 2010, they grew 12.45 billion bushels using 1.6 lbs. nutrients/bushel produced. In total, this represents an 87.5% increase in production in 2010 with 4% fewer nutrients during that same timeframe. Corn production accounts for half of U.S. fertilizer use, and experts estimate that 40 to 60% of world food production is attributable to fertilizers.   

“Through improvements in modern technology and old fashioned ingenuity, our farmers are using fertilizer with the greatest efficiency in history and have again shown why U.S. agriculture will continue to feed the world,” stated Ford West, president of The Fertilizer Institute. “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 efficient use of commercially produced fertilizers.”

This achievement shown in the USDA data is notable for its environmental, economic and social benefits. Each additional bushel of corn produced through these efficiencies can in turn produce either 6 lbs. of beef, 13 lbs. of pork, 20 lbs. of chicken, or 28 lbs. of fish for dinner plates in the United States and around the world.

Increasingly, U.S. farmers’ fertilizer use has been under intense scrutiny for its potential impact on water bodies such as the Chesapeake Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. The USDA data demonstrate that farmers are using fertilizer more precisely to produce a larger crop more efficiently.

The Fertilizer Institute represents the nation’s fertilizer industry. For more information, visit www.tfi.org/. For more information on the 4R nutrient stewardship, visit www.nutrientstewardship.com.