More Bushels, Less Inputs

Latest USDA figures show that on a per-bushel basis farmers are using less of just about everything these days.

Published on: Jun 17, 2011

Commercial agriculture sure takes it on the chin these days. Opponents talk about the millions of gallons of fuel, water and crop protection products used to raise corn, but the truth is on a per bushel basis we're using less than ever. In fact U.S. corn farmers keep doing more with less every year. According to USDA and Fertilizer Institute data, farmers decreased usage of key fertilizers by roughly one-third per bushel in the last 30 years.

"Farmers truly were the first environmentalists," says NCGA Production and Stewardship Action Team Chair Steve Ebke, in an NCGA press statement. "The multigenerational nature of our operations constantly reminds us of why we want to improve both farming practices and our land. By reducing fertilizer usage per bushel, we save valuable resources, decrease our environmental impact and produce our crop more affordably. It is a true win-win situation for farmers and consumers."

Between 1978 and 2010, phosphorus use decreased by 43.3% per bushel with potash and nitrogen use decreasing by 38.6 and 31.5% per bushel respectively. The data, based on three-year averages collected by the USDA, highlights the efficiency gains farmers have had during that period. While overall usage declined less sharply, simultaneous dramatic increases in average yields meant significant gains in the efficiency of the product used.

Over the same period, the overall amount of fertilizer use did decline despite consistently increased production. During the 32 year period, phosphorus use per acre decreased by 11.8% with 6.9 and 2.6% reductions in the use of nitrogen and potash respectively. Over the same span, average yields increased from roughly 95 to 155 bushels per acre.

The data shows that farmers have a better handle on their inputs than ever before, offering the potential to produce more food with less. Given the challenges ahead, those skills are going to come in handy.

Check out the complete report from NASS.