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Journal of Environmental Quality Abstract - Special Section: Improving Nitrogen Use Efficiency in Crop and Livestock Production Systems

The Economic and Environmental Consequences of Implementing Nitrogen-Efficient Technologies and Management Practices in Agriculture

 

This article in JEQ

  1. Vol. 44 No. 2, p. 312-324
     
    Received: Mar 25, 2014
    Accepted: Nov 10, 2014
    Published: December 16, 2014December 16, 2014


    * Corresponding author(s): xz2@princeton.edu
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doi:10.2134/jeq2014.03.0129
  1. Xin Zhang *a,
  2. Denise L. Mauzerallb,
  3. Eric A. Davidsonc,
  4. David R. Kanterd and
  5. Ruohong Caie
  1. a Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton Univ., Princeton, NJ
    b Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and the Dep. of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Princeton Univ., Princeton, NJ
    c Appalachian Laboratory, Univ. of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, Frostburg, MD
    d Earth Institute, Columbia Univ., New York, NY
    e Environmental Defense Fund, New York, NY

Abstract

Technologies and management practices (TMPs) that reduce the application of nitrogen (N) fertilizer while maintaining crop yields can improve N use efficiency (NUE) and are important tools for meeting the dual challenges of increasing food production and reducing N pollution. However, because farmers operate to maximize their profits, incentives to implement TMPs are limited, and TMP implementation will not always reduce N pollution. Therefore, we have developed the NUE Economic and Environmental impact analytical framework (NUE3) to examine the economic and environmental consequences of implementing TMPs in agriculture, with a specific focus on farmer profits, N fertilizer consumption, N losses, and cropland demand. Our analytical analyses show that impact of TMPs on farmers’ economic decision-making and the environment is affected by how TMPs change the yield ceiling and the N fertilization rate at the ceiling and by how the prices of TMPs, fertilizer, and crops vary. Technologies and management practices that increase the yield ceiling appear to create a greater economic incentive for farmers than TMPs that do not but may result in higher N application rates and excess N losses. Nevertheless, the negative environmental impacts of certain TMPs could be avoided if their price stays within a range determined by TMP yield response, fertilizer price, and crop price. We use a case study on corn production in the midwestern United States to demonstrate how NUE3 can be applied to farmers’ economic decision-making and policy analysis. Our NUE3 framework provides an important tool for policymakers to understand how combinations of fertilizer, crop, and TMP prices affect the possibility of achieving win-win outcomes for farmers and the environment.

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