Posted: May 6, 2016

Manure. Minerals. Wood ash. Crop residues. A century ago, these natural products were just about the only things available to help boost crop yield.

Piles of grass

Today, however, thanks to the development and widespread use of synthetic fertilizers, farmers grow an immense variety and quantity of high-quality crops to feed an ever-expanding population. Farmers also use fertilizers to increase the growth of their forage crops--the grasses and legumes used to feed the tens of millions of livestock around the world.

In the early 1900s, researchers at Penn State--a leader in forage research--played an important role in soil fertility research and encouraging farmers to amend soils to improve crop production. These scientists demonstrated how the addition of nutrients found in manures and other amendments could substantially increase both the yield and quality of forages being grown for their livestock.

Now, 100 years later, scientists in the college continue to research field and forage crop management. Some of the work still focuses on yield and quality of the crops being cultivated, work that was begun more than a century ago. However, of greater interest to today's researchers is improving the economics associated with crop production, while maintaining or improving the quality of the environment.