Sustainable ag: More crop per drop of fertilizer

How we’re helping farmers to increase production and soil health

Major food companies and retailers like Walmart are creating strong market demand for sustainable food. EDF is helping these businesses meet corporate sustainability goals by working with farmers to adopt practices that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and fertilizer runoff while making their land more resilient to climate change.

EDF is also partnering with the National Corn Growers Association to address one of the most pressing challenges for today’s farmers, rural communities and natural resources – how to improve environmental outcomes while optimizing productivity and profitability.

Scientific research

EDF scientists discovered that with a combination of efficient fertilizer practices, cover crops, and restoring wetlands and other natural infrastructure across the Corn Belt to trap and treat nitrogen lost from farms –we can reach the Environmental Protection Agency's goal of shrinking the Gulf of Mexico's dead zone to a safe level. Targeting a small amount of marginal land with low yields, we'll also minimize impacts to crop production.

These findings, along with parallel research that showcases the primary reasons for nitrogen losses in the Corn Belt, are helping inform policy and target agricultural funding where it is needed most. We've also:

  • Worked with farmers and their advisors to establish farmer networks that conduct real-world testing of fertilizer applications on farms.
  • Farmers share the results to determine best practices for delivering the highest yield with the greatest conservation benefits.
  • Helped reduce fertilizer loss by an average of 25% on 750,000 acres across the U.S. while maintaining or increasing crop yields.

Now, EDF and partners have used this knowledge to create a Farmer Network Manual [PDF] for agricultural practitioners interested in conducting their own on-farm research.

Innovative tools

NutrientStar is an independent, science-based program that reviews the performance of commercially available fertilizer management tools.

NutrientStar logo

Major food companies are launching sustainable sourcing programs to reduce fertilizer runoff, improve air and water quality, and reduce the risk of supply chain disruptions. Precision agriculture tools, in particular those that improve nutrient management, can help farmers meet this demand and reduce fertilizer losses, but little data is publicly available on how these tools work in the field.

NutrientStar evaluates how well products work in real-world farming scenarios. The program's independent science review panel conducts rigorous assessments of all tools on the market, particularly looking at on-farm field trials, to determine how a tool works in croplands, in different regions, and on different soil types.

Land O'Lakes SUSTAIN™ program collaborates with EDF to develop practice-based sustainability tools and resources for farmers across North America. Land O'Lakes SUSTAIN, which will be available to growers through the WinField® United agricultural co-operative network, focuses on educating agricultural retailers on practices that improve air, water and soil quality. The ag retailers then apply this knowledge to their local areas and help growers implement these practices. Land O'Lakes SUSTAIN is committed to influencing sustainability practices on 10 million acres of farmland by 2020.

Companies that are engaging Land O'Lakes SUSTAIN today include Campbell's Soup and Smithfield Foods.

Ag GHG markets

EDF is also connecting growers with emerging opportunities to participate in carbon markets for agriculture: