The use of fertilizers and pesticides is extensive in United States’ (US) agriculture, and crop production has been aided by these inputs for some time. As demand for crops like corn and soybeans grew, so did the land area dedicated for their production. Fertilizer and pesticide use increased alongside it. Nutrients essential for plant growth are supplied by fertilizers, and pesticides kill plants and animals which harm crops, helping boost production.
Fertilizers and pesticides have a long history of use in the US and are considered important components of modern farming. Fertilizers are used to supply crops with essential nutrients for growth and to help replenish the soil of key elements once a crop has extracted them during the growth process. The use of manure for nutrient application was the predominant fertilizer method for quite some time, but chemically-based fertilizers rapidly gained popularity starting in the 1940’s. Nitrogen was used extensively during World War II in the making of explosives, and after the war ended factories started producing fertilizer from the nitrogen supply. Today, fertilizers are available in many forms, and are widely used to aid plant growth and increase crop production.
Pesticides are chemicals which are used to control weeds and insects which pose a threat to crop production. If left unchecked, weeds can quickly outcompete the crop for essential light, water, and nutrients. Many kinds of insects feed on crops, damaging plants and limiting production. Use of chemicals for pest control dates back to the turn of the 20th century, but applications really took off in the mid-1940s after the advent of the insecticide Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, more commonly known as DDT, and weed-killer 2,4-Dichlorophenoxyacetic acid, or 2,4-D. Popular herbicides like Atrazine and Glyphosate came onto the market in the following decades, along with hundreds of other pesticide formulations, with chemical applications increasing threefold between 1960 and 1981.
Corn, soybeans, wheat, and cotton are the top crops in terms of production acreage in the US. Corn and soybeans dominate the other two. This piece will focus on their production trends and the correlations with fertilizer and pesticide use. Sixty five years ago, harvested area of corn sat around 77 million acres, and average US corn yield was just 54 bushels per acre. Presently, corn acreage is at 82.7 million acres, and yield now sits at a median of over 170 bushels per acre.
US soybean yield has also climbed like corn’s, but with much larger jumps in acreage. In the 1940s, soybean harvested area was at just 10.7 million acres. Today, there are around 89.5 million acres harvested, representing an increase of 736 percent. Soybean yield was less than 20 bushels per acre in the 1940s, but now averages 49 bushels per acre. Corn and soybean production has increased largely because of heightened demand, enhancements in farming technology, and developments of genetically engineered (GE) varieties.
In response to demand which resulted in greater plantings, farmers began to apply more fertilizers and spray more pesticides on the growing production area. With more applications also came greater spending on such inputs. Between 1985 and 2016, adjusted for inflation, US farm expenditures on fertilizers increased from $8.6 billion to $23.5 billion, and spending on chemicals swelled from $3.9 to $15.2 billion. However, expenditures have started to level off or slowly drop as farmers employ an integrated basket of control measures and variable-rate nutrient applications.
The three broad categories of fertilizers are nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (NPK)-based. Rates of their combined applications grew after 1960, but have started to level off because of better practices. In 1960, total application rate was 46 pounds per acre per year (lb/acre/yr). By 2004, this rate had reached 146 lb/acre/yr, and now sits between 130-140 lb/acre/yr.
Nitrogen has had the highest application rate of the three nutrients and the biggest jump in use—in 1960, nitrogen application averaged 17 lb/acre/yr, reaching a peak rate of 82.5 lb/acre/yr in 2007. The nutrient accounts for approximately 59 percent of total fertilizer weight. Use of phosphorus and potassium (potash) has been pretty stable since 1960, with both nutrients maintaining rates between 25 and 36 lb/acre/yr since then. They account for around 20 and 21 percent of total fertilizer treatments, respectively.
The four aforementioned crops combined receive approximately 60 percent of all NPK fertilizers. Around 40 percent of total commercially applied NPK is put on corn, whose production is largely concentrated in the Midwestern states. Most soybeans are produced in this region as well, but the crop accounts for less than 10 percent of total NPK use. This is mainly because soybeans are legumes and can fix their own nitrogen to use throughout the growing season. Corn needs more fertilization because it can’t sequester it’s own nitrogen, and harvesting the crop usually requires taking most of the plant, which results in more nutrients being removed from the field at the end of the season that must be replenished.
Pesticide use rose rapidly in the US after 1960 as acreage expanded to meet increasing food demand. With the low price of pesticides relative to other pest control measures like tillage, application increased. Usage has fluctuated over the past 30 years and is largely correlated with crop prices, weather, pesticide regulations, and inventions of new pest resistant GE seed varieties. Today, around $15 billion is spent annually on pesticides, representing a five-fold increase since 1960 when adjusting for inflation.
Sixty years ago, herbicides accounted for around 18 percent of pesticide applications by volume on US crops, and insecticides represented 58 percent. These figures are much different now, with herbicide and insecticide use accounting for approximately 76 and 6 percent of total applications, respectively. Adoption of herbicides grew due to low prices and availability of different chemicals, while insecticide use decreased as formulations became more effective and less product was needed to achieve the intended result. Presently, corn, soybeans, wheat, and cotton receive about 80 percent of total pesticide volume. Corn dominates pesticide usage with a share of approximately 39 percent. Soybeans come in second, with 22 percent of total volume being applied to the crop. These large shares of total volume represent the high demand for the crops in livestock feed. Corn’s role in ethanol fuel production has also helped increase the crop’s acreage and therefore chemical applications.
When GE seeds came onto the US agricultural scene in the late 1990s, there were thoughts that the new technology would increase production while decreasing the amount of pesticides applied. Scientists engineered seeds for plants that could withstand the spraying of the herbicide glyphosate, allowing farmers to spray over growing corn while killing weeds. Others were manufactured to produce their own insecticide known as Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), with the hopes of limiting insecticide spraying because the GE crops could now produce their own chemical defenses.
However, the opposite appears to be happening. At first, GE technology did decrease the amount of pesticide applications, but this didn’t last long. The reliance on fewer types of herbicides and the repeated applications of them has resulted in resistant weeds which are essentially immune to the chemicals. After a herbicide application fails to control certain weeds, they produce seeds that will grow into even more weeds the next season, resulting in increased herbicide applications. The same holds true for Bt crops—some insects are evolving to continue to feed on plants regardless of any GE technology that is present. While GE crops have helped boost production, it has come at the expense of pesticide resistance issues.
Fertilizers and pesticides are commonplace in US agriculture, and production would not be where it is today without these inputs. Usage of and farm expenditures on fertilizers and pesticides increased greatly after the 1960s as production area grew, but has somewhat leveled off because of diminishing returns and better practices. Growing demand for corn and soybeans will likely maintain strong total input requirements, even if usage per acre decreases due to rising costs and adoption of better practices. Crops will always need nutrients, and there will continue to be pests which need to be controlled. While some negative effects come along with fertilizer and pesticide use, agriculture in the US and globally cannot achieve production sufficient for a population forecast to reach 10 billion by 2050 without it.
Receive our research in your inbox
Thank you for subscribing to our newsletter!
What Information Do We Collect?
The information we gather enables us to personalize, improve and continue to operate the Services. We collect the following types of information from our users.
IP Address Information and Other Information Collected Automatically:
· We automatically receive and record information from your web browser when you interact with the Services, including your IP address and cookie information. This information is used for fighting spam/malware and also to facilitate collection of data concerning your interaction with the Services (e.g., what links you have clicked on).
· Generally, the Services automatically collect usage information, such as the number and frequency of visitors to the Site. We may use this data in aggregate form, that is, as a statistical measure, but not in a manner that would identify you personally. This type of aggregate data enables us and third parties authorized by us to figure out how often individuals use parts of the Services so that we can analyze and improve them.
Information Collected Using Cookies:
· Most browsers have an option for turning off the cookie feature, which will prevent your browser from accepting new cookies, as well as (depending on the sophistication of your browser software) allowing you to decide on acceptance of each new cookie in a variety of ways.
We collect statistical information about how users collectively use the Services (“Aggregate Information”). Some of this information may be derived from Personal Information. This statistical information is not Personal Information and cannot be tied back to you or your web browser.
How, and With Whom, Is My Information Shared?
IP Address Information:
Information You Elect to Share:
We share Aggregate Information with our partners, service providers and other persons with whom we conduct business. We share this type of statistical data so that our partners can understand how and how often people use our Services and their services or websites, which facilitates improving both their services and how our Services interface with them. In addition, these third parties may share with us non-private, aggregated or otherwise non Personal Information about you that they have independently developed or acquired.
Information Shared with Our Agents:
We employ and contract with people and other entities that perform certain tasks on our behalf and who are under our control (our “Agents”). We may need to share Personal Information with our Agents in order to provide products or services to you. Unless we tell you differently, our Agents do not have any right to use Personal Information or other information we share with them beyond what is necessary to assist us. You hereby consent to our sharing of Personal Information with our Agents.
Information Disclosed Pursuant to Business Transfers:
In some cases, we may choose to buy or sell assets. In these types of transactions, user information is typically one of the transferred business assets. Moreover, if we, or substantially all of our assets, were acquired, or if we go out of business or enter bankruptcy, user information would be one of the assets that is transferred or acquired by a third party. You acknowledge that such transfers may occur, and that any acquirer of us or our assets may continue to use your Personal Information as set forth in this policy.
Information Disclosed for Our Protection and the Protection of Others:
Information We Share With Your Consent:
Except as set forth above, you will be notified when your Personal Information may be shared with third parties, and will be able to prevent the sharing of this information.
Is Information About Me Secure?
We store all of our information, including your IP address information, using industry-standard techniques. We do not guarantee or warrant that such techniques will prevent unauthorized access to information about you that we store, Personal Information or otherwise.
What Information of Mine Can I Access?
You can access and delete cookies through your web browser settings.
California Privacy Rights: Under California Civil Code sections 1798.83-1798.84, California residents are entitled to ask us for a notice identifying the categories of personal customer information which we share with our affiliates and/or third parties for marketing purposes, and providing contact information for such affiliates and/or third parties. If you are a California resident and would like a copy of this notice, please submit a written request to the following address: 12 E 49th Street, 11th Floor, New York, NY 10017
What If I Have Questions or Concerns?
If you have any questions or concerns regarding privacy using the Services, please send us a detailed message to firstname.lastname@example.org. We will make every effort to resolve your concerns.
Effective Date: March 11, 2014
b. You shall not (directly or indirectly):i. take any action that imposes or may impose (as determined by us in our sole discretion) an unreasonable or disproportionately large load on our (or our third party providers’) infrastructure;ii. interfere or attempt to interfere with the proper working of the Services or any activities conducted on the Services;iii. bypass, circumvent or attempt to bypass or circumvent any measures we may use to prevent or restrict access to the Services (or other accounts, computer systems or networks connected to the Services);iv. use manual or automated software, devices, or other processes to “crawl” or “spider” any page of the Site;
v. harvest or scrape any Content from the Services;
vi. otherwise take any action in violation of our guidelines and policies;vii. decipher, decompile, disassemble, reverse engineer or otherwise attempt to derive any source code or underlying ideas or algorithms of any part of the Services (including without limitation any application), except to the limited extent applicable laws specifically prohibit such restriction;viii. modify, translate, or otherwise create derivative works of any part of the Services; orix. copy, rent, lease, distribute, or otherwise transfer any of the rights that you receive hereunder.c. We also reserve the right to access, read, preserve, and disclose any information as we reasonably believe is necessary to:i. satisfy any applicable law, regulation, legal process or governmental request;ii. enforce these Terms of Service, including investigation of potential violations hereof;
iii. detect, prevent, or otherwise address fraud, security or technical issues;
iv. respond to user support requests; or
v. protect the rights, property or safety of us, our users and the public.4. Third Party Services. The Services may permit you to link to other websites, services or resources on the Internet, and other websites, services or resources may contain links to the Services. When you access third party resources on the Internet, you do so at your own risk. These other resources are not under our control, and you acknowledge that we are not responsible or liable for the content, functions, accuracy, legality, appropriateness or any other aspect of such websites or resources. The inclusion of any such link does not imply our endorsement or any association between us and their operators. You further acknowledge and agree that we shall not be responsible or liable, directly or indirectly, for any damage or loss caused or alleged to be caused by or in connection with the use of or reliance on any such content, goods or services available on or through any such website or resource.5. Termination. We may terminate your access to all or any part of the Services at any time, with or without cause, with or without notice, effective immediately. All provisions of these Terms of Service which by their nature should survive termination shall survive termination, including, without limitation, ownership provisions, warranty disclaimers, indemnity and limitations of liability.6. Warranty Disclaimer.a. You release us from all liability for you having acquired or not acquired Content through the Services. We make no representations concerning any Content contained in or accessed through the Services, and we will not be responsible or liable for the accuracy, copyright compliance, or legality of material or Content contained in or accessed through the Services.b. THE SERVICES AND CONTENT ARE PROVIDED “AS IS”, “AS AVAILABLE” AND WITHOUT WARRANTY OF ANY KIND, EXPRESS OR IMPLIED, INCLUDING, BUT NOT LIMITED TO, THE IMPLIED WARRANTIES OF TITLE, NON-INFRINGEMENT, MERCHANTABILITY AND FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE, AND ANY WARRANTIES IMPLIED BY ANY COURSE OF PERFORMANCE OR USAGE OF TRADE, ALL OF WHICH ARE EXPRESSLY DISCLAIMED. WE, AND OUR DIRECTORS, EMPLOYEES, AGENTS, SUPPLIERS, PARTNERS AND CONTENT PROVIDERS DO NOT WARRANT THAT: (I) THE SERVICES WILL BE SECURE OR AVAILABLE AT ANY PARTICULAR TIME OR LOCATION; (II) ANY DEFECTS OR ERRORS WILL BE CORRECTED; (III) ANY CONTENT AVAILABLE AT OR THROUGH THE SERVICES IS FREE OF VIRUSES OR OTHER HARMFUL COMPONENTS; OR (IV) THE RESULTS OF USING THE SERVICES WILL MEET YOUR REQUIREMENTS.7. Limitation of Liability. IN NO EVENT SHALL WE, NOR OUR DIRECTORS, EMPLOYEES, AGENTS, PARTNERS, SUPPLIERS OR CONTENT PROVIDERS, BE LIABLE UNDER CONTRACT, TORT, STRICT LIABILITY, NEGLIGENCE OR ANY OTHER LEGAL OR EQUITABLE THEORY WITH RESPECT TO THE SERVICES FOR ANY (I) LOST PROFITS, DATA LOSS, COST OF PROCUREMENT OF SUBSTITUTE GOODS OR SERVICES, OR SPECIAL, INDIRECT, INCIDENTAL, PUNITIVE, COMPENSATORY OR CONSEQUENTIAL DAMAGES OF ANY KIND WHATSOEVER, SUBSTITUTE GOODS OR SERVICES (HOWEVER ARISING), (II) BUGS, VIRUSES, TROJAN HORSES, OR THE LIKE (REGARDLESS OF THE SOURCE OF ORIGINATION), OR (III) DIRECT DAMAGES IN EXCESS OF $50.00.8. Governing Law and Jurisdiction. These Terms of Service shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of the State of New York, including its conflicts of law rules, and the United States of America. You agree that any dispute arising from or relating to the subject matter of these Terms of Service shall be governed by the exclusive jurisdiction and venue of the state and Federal courts of New York County, New York.9. Miscellaneous.a. Modification. We reserve the right, in our sole discretion, to modify or replace any of these Terms of Service, or change, suspend, or discontinue the Services at any time. Your continued use of the Services following notification of any changes to these Terms of Service constitutes acceptance of those changes.b. Entire Agreement and Severability. These Terms of Service are the entire agreement between you and us with respect to the Services, including use of the Site, and supersede all prior or contemporaneous communications and proposals (whether oral, written or electronic) between you and us with respect to the Services. If any provision of these Terms of Service is found to be unenforceable or invalid, that provision will be limited or eliminated to the minimum extent necessary so that these Terms of Service will otherwise remain in full force and effect and enforceable. The failure of either party to exercise in any respect any right provided for herein shall not be deemed a waiver of any further rights hereunderc. Force Majeure. We shall not be liable for any failure to perform our obligations hereunder where such failure results from any cause beyond our reasonable control, including, without limitation, mechanical, electronic or communications failure or degradation.d. Assignment. These Terms of Service are personal to you, and are not assignable, transferable or sublicensable by you except with our prior written consent. We may assign, transfer or delegate any of our rights and obligations hereunder without consent.e. Agency. No agency, partnership, joint venture, or employment relationship is created as a result of these Terms of Service and neither party has any authority of any kind to bind the other in any respect.f. Notices. Unless otherwise specified in these Term of Service, all notices under these Terms of Service will be in writing and will be deemed to have been duly given when received, if personally delivered or sent by certified or registered mail, return receipt requested; when receipt is electronically confirmed, if transmitted by facsimile or e-mail; or the day after it is sent, if sent for next day delivery by recognized overnight delivery service. Electronic notices should be sent to email@example.com. No Waiver. Our failure to enforce any part of these Terms of Service shall not constitute a waiver of our right to later enforce that or any other part of these Terms of Service. Waiver of compliance in any particular instance does not mean that we will waive compliance in the future. In order for any waiver of compliance with these Terms of Service to be binding, we must provide you with written notice of such waiver through one of our authorized representatives.h. Headings. The section and paragraph headings in these Terms of Service are for convenience only and shall not affect their interpretation.Contact. You may contact us at the following address: 12 E 49th Street, 11th Floor, New York, NY 10017.