The ups and downs of fertilizing farmland

NPR:

The U.S. Department of Agriculture released a document yesterday that got no attention on the nightly news, or almost anywhere, really. Its title, I’m sure you’ll agree, is a snooze: National Nutrient Management Standard.

Yet this document represents the agency’s best attempt to solve one of the country’s — and the world’s — really huge environmental problems: The nitrogen and phosphorus that pollute waterways.

There’s a simple reason why this problem is so big, and so hard to solve. Farmers have to feed their fields, before those fields can feed us. Without fertilizer, harvests would dwindle. But lakes, estuaries, and coastal waters lie downstream from highly fertilized farmland, and now they are choking to death on too much nutrition.

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