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UW-Madison Research Shows Atrazine Aids the Environment
Wisconsin Ag Connection - 01/10/2012

The 50-year-old herbicide atrazine, renowned for controlling weeds, is instrumental to conservation as well. That's according to a new study by University of Wisconsin-Madison Economist Paul D. Mitchell, Ph.D., who found the use of atrazine helps farmers reduce aggregate soil erosion by up to 85 million tons per year.

Dr. Mitchell will present the findings of his paper, 'Estimating soil erosion and fuel use changes and their monetary values with AGSIM: A case study for triazine herbicides,' at this week's Wisconsin Crop Management Conference in Madison.

His research showed that atrazine and sister triazine herbicides, simazine and propazine, benefit U.S. society by up to $350 million in soil erosion costs per year. He says by encouraging conservation tillage and no-till farming, atrazine and the other triazines reduce soil erosion, decrease fuel use and improve water quality.

The study also unveiled that increased farmer adoption of conservation tillage and related practices, made possible in part by popular herbicides such as atrazine, led to a 43-percent decrease in soil erosion from U.S. farmland over the past three decades. Because atrazine increases corn and sorghum yields, farmers use less land for crops. This allows as many as 875,000 acres to remain in the Conservation Reserve Program, where it generates environmental benefits for everyone, including wildlife habitat and reduced soil erosion.

"We are just beginning to understand the full environmental economic impact atrazine has on the agriculture industry and global food markets in this new agricultural economy," said Mitchell. "Atrazine effectively controls weeds and significantly increases corn, sorghum, and sugar cane yields. But it also supports conservation tillage and no-till farming, which are critical to protecting the environment and providing food and clean water to our world's population."

Findings from the two studies show atrazine and its sister triazines generate a $4.4 billion consumer surplus annually. Combining the consumer surplus estimates with the soil erosion benefits, atrazine's value to the U.S. economy totals up to $4.8 billion, with most of these benefits going directly to consumers.

Mitchell, an associate professor in the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, grew up on his family's farm in Iowa and received his doctorate from Iowa State University. Before joining University of Wisconsin-Madison, he was an assistant professor in the Department of Agricultural Economics at Texas A&M University. His current research and outreach programs focus on the farm-level economics of crop production, emphasizing pest management, risk management and specialty crop economics.


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