For centuries, keeping farmland in production has been critical to the economy and our nation’s food security system. But increasingly, the State of California is recognizing the importance of preserving this land to help fight climate change, as noted in the 2030 Natural and Working Lands Climate Change Implementation Plan. Farmland offers open spaces and habitat for wildlife. It provides a buffer against development, which would mean more streets, traffic and greenhouse gas emissions.
A big key to farm efficiency and a healthy environment isthe increasingly sophisticated use of fertilizers. Plants, like people, require nutrients to be healthy. By keeping plants healthy, fertilizers are responsible for strong roots, which prevents soil erosion and in turn protects green spaces and promotes biodiverse habitats.
Healthy plants not only produce oxygen essential for all living things, but they contribute to the fight against climate change by absorbing massive amounts of carbon (CO2) from the atmosphere. A just released report by the California Legislative Analyst’s Office estimates that modern fertilizers only contribute about one percent of the total greenhouse gases being emitted from all contributing urban and rural sources. However, a recent study by Stanford University estimates that healthy plants and soils absorb about 30 percent of total CO2 emitted. It is hard to imagine a more environmentally beneficial tradeoff for Californians than using fertilizers to promote healthy plants, who can then through photosynthesis convert massive amounts of CO2 into oxygen.
While fertilizers are vital, there has been concerns raised about the potential contributions of nitrates leaching into groundwater aquifers. In response, California’s fertilizer industry has been funding the Fertilizer Research & Education Program (FREP). Overseen by the California Department of Agriculture, for over 30 years FREP has led the country in fertilizer research and grower education to promote the agronomically sound and environmentally safe use of nitrogen products.
In keeping with their desire to be better environmental stewards of their land, thousands of farmers are utilizing this fertilizer industry funded program to learn how to improve the way they use water and fertilizers. The fertilizer industry is currently funding over $2,000,000 a year in grower education programs to help farmers maximize advanced management practices which will minimize potential nutrient impacts to water quality. FREP is a terrific example of a public-private partnership that is promoting best practices that allow farmers to keep their land in production while protecting the environment. Whether we are looking at water or air quality, the use of advanced fertilizers are helping to assure that agricultural contributions that impact our environment are minimized, while still maximizing the removal of greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. If California wants to continue to lead on pumping up the green in our state, fertilizers will need to play a role.
By Renee Pinel