Fertilizer Consumption and Energy Input for 16 Crops in the United States

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Abstract

Fertilizer use by U.S. agriculture has increased over the past few decades. The production and transportation of fertilizers (nitrogen, N; phosphorus, P; potassium, K) are energy intensive. In general, about a third of the total energy input to crop production goes to the production of fertilizers, one-third to mechanization, and one-third to other inputs including labor, transportation, pesticides, and electricity. For some crops, fertilizer is the largest proportion of total energy inputs. Energy required for the production and transportation of fertilizers, as a percentage of total energy input, was determined for 16 crops in the U.S. to be: 19–60% for seven grains, 10–41% for two oilseeds, 25% for potatoes, 12–30% for three vegetables, 2–23% for two fruits, and 3% for dry beans. The harvested-area weighted-average of the fraction of crop fertilizer energy to the total input energy was 28%. The current sources of fertilizers for U.S. agriculture are dependent on imports, availability of natural gas, or limited mineral resources. Given these dependencies plus the high energy costs for fertilizers, an integrated approach for their efficient and sustainable use is needed that will simultaneously maintain or increase crop yields and food quality while decreasing adverse impacts on the environment.