In America’s heartland, corn is king. More than 89 million acres were planted in 2018, enough to fill a freight train that would more than encircle the earth.
But growing corn has a steep environmental cost. Excess fertilizer runs off fields into rivers, lakes and groundwater, polluting drinking water around the Midwest and creating algae-filled dead zones.
It also forms nitrous oxide, a potent greenhouse gas.
Historically, farmers often didn’t know how much fertilizer to use, so they applied extra to be on the safe side. This hurts downstream communities.
Today, farmers increasingly want to use fertilizer more efficiently, which also saves money, and adopt other conservation practices.
Boosting conservation on millions of acres
EDF’s collaboration with major food buyers including Campbell Soup Co., Land O’Lakes, Smithfield Foods and Walmart is raising the bar for sustainable large-scale agriculture.
We’re helping these companies measure progress toward their sustainability goals – and we’re helping farmers meet the new standards.
EDF has been a key ally for years. Our new partnership will bolster corn farmers’ tradition of stewardship, helping the environment, farm profitability and rural America.Jon Doggett, CEO, National Corn Growers Association
That means partnering with farmers and trade groups to advance practices such as applying fertilizer more precisely, using no-till techniques that leave more carbon in the soil, creating buffers and wetlands along rivers and streams to improve water quality, and planting cover crops to protect the soil.
Today’s tech-savvy, data-hungry farmers are using these practices to reinvent their approach to the land. In 2018, to further accelerate progress, EDF partnered with the National Corn Growers Association, which represents about 80 percent of America’s corn farmers.
This partnership will greatly expand farmers’ access to our sustainability innovations and advice.
So far, our partnerships have resulted in improved fertilizer and soil management on more than 3.6 million acres of corn, with commitments to boost conservation on 20 million more.
By 2022, we aim to have such practices in place on 45 million acres, half of all U.S. cornfields.
“EDF is a trusted name in the countryside,” says Iowa grain farmer Bill Couser, who, with his son Tim, helps other farmers adopt new techniques. “EDF shows companies like Walmart how farmers operate. Neither of us has all the answers, but EDF has persuaded us to move in directions I did not know were possible or practical.”
A water meter in the sky
Fourth Wave pioneer spotlight
As water supplies dwindle in the arid West, farmers and water managers are looking for dramatically more efficient ways to use water.
The question, according to Nevada farmer Denise Moyle, is, “How do I cut my water consumption by 50 percent over the next 30 years and still manage to grow a crop of alfalfa?”
One challenge is that many farmers don’t have access to data on evapotranspiration, or ET, a measure of the water they lose to the atmosphere through evaporation from the soil and transpiration through the leaves of plants.
By understanding ET, farmers have the power to cut down on excess water use while maintaining healthy crops.
That’s why EDF is working with NASA, the Desert Research Institute and others on OpenET, a web-based service that will harvest ET data from satellites and provide the results to farmers and water managers – nearly in real time. The data will help foster sustainable water use and encourage beneficial water trading programs.
If you give farmers better information on when they should and shouldn’t have their water on, you’re going to save water,” says Moyle. “I think that’s the greatest asset of OpenET.”