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Soil Degradation Costs U.S. Corn Farmers $500M Every Year

New research from CU Boulder recently published in Earth’s Future contends that one-third of the fertilizer applied to corn fields in the U.S. every year is used to simply compensate for the continual loss of soil fertility, leading to a cost of half a billion dollars every year to the country’s corn farmers.

Salinization, acidification, erosion, and loss of nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus are happening due to the long-term loss of soil fertility - which farmers counter with the application of fertilizers intended to boost yields. However, scientists had never before calculated what percentage of this fertilizer goes to re-achieving a baseline fertility, until now.

The U.S. is one of the top users of fertilizers in the world, however this usage has more than a monetary cost - 24 percent of global emissions in 2010 and 10 percent of global emissions in 2018 were due to fertilizer production. And runoff from fields into waterways is also responsible for the Dead Zone in the Gulf of Mexico - a vast area of ocean that is lifeless due to a lack of oxygen. Researchers state that when considering all economic impacts together, not only the dollars spent by farmers but nutrient loss and the environmental impacts, the true cost can reach the trillions of dollars every year.

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