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Study highlights massive imbalances in global fertilizer use
Date:6/18/2009

erious food shortage," he recalled. "Then the government began subsidizing fertilizer and corn seeds. In just four years production tripled, and Malawi actually became an exporter of corn."

Food production is paramount, added co-author G. Philip Robertson, a professor of crop and soil sciences at Michigan State University. "Avoiding the misery of hunger is and should be a global human priority," Robertson said. "But we should also find ways to do this without sacrificing other key aspects of human welfare, among them a clean environment. It doesn't have to be an either/or choice."

For countries where over-fertilization is a problem, the authors cited a number of techniques to reduce environmental damage. "Some of these--such as better-targeted timing and placement of nutrient inputs, modifications to livestock diets and the preservation or restoration of riparian vegetation strips--can be implemented now," they wrote.

Designing sustainable solutions also will require a lot more scientific data, they added. "Our lack of effective policies can be attributed, in part, to a lack of good on-farm data about what's happening with nutrient input and loss over time," said co-author Alan Townsend, an associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Colorado-Boulder. "Both China and the European Union have supported agricultural research that yields policy-relevant information on nutrient balances. But the U.S. is particularly lacking in long-term data for a country with such a well-developed scientific enterprise."

Even in Europe, with its strong research programs on nutrient balances and stringent policies for reducing fertilizer runoff, nitrogen pollution remains substantial. "The problem of mitigation of excess nitrogen loss to waters is not easily resolved," said co-author Penny Johnes, director of the Aquatic Environments Research Centre at the University of Reading, U.K. "Society may
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Contact: Mark Shwartz
mshwartz@stanford.edu
650-723-9296
Stanford University
Source:Eurekalert  

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