NPR

Does 'Sustainability' Help The Environment Or Just Agriculture's Public Image?

Big food companies like Walmart want farmers to reduce greenhouse emissions from nitrogen fertilizer. But the best-known program to accomplish this may not be having much effect.
Wade Dooley, in Albion, Iowa, uses less fertilizer than most farmers because he grows rye and alfalfa, along with corn and soybeans. "This field [of rye] has not been fertilized at all," he says. Source: Dan Charles/NPR

Brent Deppe is taking me on a tour of the farm supply business, called Key Cooperative, that he helps to manage in Grinnell, Iowa. We step though the back door of one warehouse, and our view of the sky is blocked by a gigantic round storage tank, painted white.

"This is the liquid nitrogen tank," Deppe explains. "It's a million-and-a-half gallon tank."

Nitrogen is the essential ingredient for growing corn and most other crops. Farmers around here spread it on their fields by the truckload.

"How much nitrogen goes out of here in a year?" I ask.

Deppe pauses, reluctant to share trade secrets. "Not enough," he eventually says with a

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