China's Push to Add by Subtracting Fertilizer

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Science  12 Feb 2010:
Vol. 327, Issue 5967, pp. 801
DOI: 10.1126/science.327.5967.801

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China is the world's largest user of synthetic fertilizer, consuming 36% of the global total. As a result, China's farmers have exceeded soil needs, causing nitrates to accumulate and create serious pollution problems. And the hunger for nitrogen has added to China's energy and greenhouse gas emissions: In the atmosphere, those nitrates form nitrous oxide, a potent warming gas. Now, as the country attempts to coax even bigger harvests from the land, soil scientists want to end China's fertilizer binge. Through several promising demonstration projects, they are showing farmers that reducing fertilizer use can improve crop yields without adding to environmental problems. The new maxim, say Chinese soil scientists, is "Less input, more output." That strategy could also hold promise for farmers in nations with too little fertilizer but a big need to increase soil fertility.