Corn, one of the major field crops produced in the United States, is a nitrogen-loving plant. To achieve desired production levels, most farmers apply synthetic nitrogen fertilizer to their fields every year. Once nitrogen fertilizer hits the ground, however, it's hard to contain and is easily lost to groundwater, rivers, oceans and the atmosphere. "That's not good for the crops, the farmers or the environment," says Phil Robertson, a scientist at Michigan State University and principal investigator at the National Science Foundation's Kellogg Biological Station Long-Term Ecological Research site. Farmers already manage fertilizer to avoid large losses. But, to reduce losses further, it currently costs more money than the fertilizer saves. Robertson and colleagues are putting the finishing touches on a new program that would pay farmers to apply less nitrogen fertilizer in a way that doesn't jeopardize yields. The program, called the nitrous oxide greenhouse gas reduction methodology, is being conducted in partnership with the Electric Power Research Institute.
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