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ARS Home » Plains Area » Las Cruces, New Mexico » Range Management Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #369973

Research Project: Science and Technologies for the Sustainable Management of Western Rangeland Systems

Location: Range Management Research

Title: The Hidden Costs of Land Degradation in U.S. Maize Agriculture

item JONG, W - University Of Colorado
item NEFF, J - University Of Colorado
item IM, Y - University Of Colorado
item DORO, L - University Of Colorado
item Herrick, Jeffrey - Jeff

Submitted to: Earth's Future
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 12/9/2020
Publication Date: 12/16/2020
Citation: Jong, W.S., Neff, J., Im, Y., Doro, L., Herrick, J.E. 2021. The hidden costs of land degradation in U.S. maize agriculture. Earth's Future. 9(2):1-19.

Interpretive Summary: Farmers in the United States generate very high corn yields. This paper explores explores the importance of fertilization and irrigation for maintaining this level of production. In this study we used a simulation model to reconstruct a 100-year history of corn agriculture in the United States and estimate the economic and environmental costs of soil degradation. By the end of the 100 year simulation, the yield differential between full replacement of water and fertiilzer , and no inputs, was approximately over 6 t ha-1 yr-1, illustrating the high value of inputs for maintaining yields.

Technical Abstract: The United States is a world leader in the production of maize and other crops and the agricultural success of the country is directly linked to the intensive use of fertilizers and irrigation. However, even in advanced agricultural systems, soils become degraded over time due to factors such as soil organic matter loss and erosion. Here, we show that about one third of current annual U.S. N fertilizer use in maize agriculture is used to compensate for the long-term loss of soil fertility through erosion and organic matter loss. This leads to over a half billion dollars per year in extra fertilizer supply costs to U.S. farmers. These results highlight the potential to reduce both the input costs and environmental impacts of agriculture through the restoration of soil organic matter in agricultural soils.