Optimizing nitrogen rates in the midwestern United States for maximum ecosystem value

Patrick M. Ewing, Bryan C. Runck

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


The importance of corn production to the midwestern United States cannot be overestimated. However, high production requires high nitrogen fertilization, which carries costs to environmental services such as water quality. Therefore, a trade-off exists between the production of corn yield and water quality. We used the Groundwater Vulnerability Assessment for Shallow depths and Crop Environment Resource Synthesis-Maize models to investigate the nature of this trade-off while testing the Simple Analytic Framework trade-offs featured in this Special Feature. First, we estimated the current levels of yield and water quality production in northeastern Iowa and southern Minnesota at the 1-square-kilometer, county, and regional scales. We then constructed an efficiency frontier from optimized nitrogen application patterns to maximize the production of both yield and water quality. Results highlight the context dependency of this trade-off, but show room for increasing the production of both services to the benefit of all stakeholders. We discuss these results in the context of spatial scale, biophysical limitations to the production of services, and stakeholder outcomes given disparate power balances and biophysical contexts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number18
JournalEcology and Society
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2015

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 by the author(s).


  • Agriculture
  • Agroecology
  • Corn belt
  • Fertilization rate
  • Frontier analysis
  • Groundwater nitrate
  • Land use
  • Nitrogen
  • Rotation
  • Row crops
  • Simple analytics framework
  • Yield


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