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Report: Indiana, Midwest farmers could help lower potent greenhouse gas nitrous oxide

Green rye grows between rows of corn. This cover crop helps to keep the soil in place and reduce the need for fertilizer.
FILE PHOTO: Seth Tackett
Green rye grows between rows of corn. This cover crop helps to keep the soil in place and reduce the need for fertilizer.

Nitrous oxide isn’t just “laughing gas” — it’s also a greenhouse gas that’s more than 200 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Corn farmers in Indiana and the rest of the U.S. use a lot of nitrogen fertilizer on their fields — which releases nitrous oxide.

A new report by the Environmental Working Group shows that if corn farmers in 11 Midwest states adopted conservation practices that helped reduce fertilizer use, the U.S. could significantly cut those emissions.

EWG’s Scott Faber said many of these aren’t new to Indiana farmers.

“So if we got wider spread adoption of these basic practices, we could reduce nitrous oxide emissions from corn equal to taking 1 million cars off the road," he said.

That includes practices like rotating crops, changing tillage practices, and planting cover crops and buffer strips. Indiana corn farmers already plant cover crops on nearly 600,000 acres of land in the state and more than 20 percent of them don’t till.

READ MORE: Farmers who rent less likely to do practices that improve soil, water

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Still, the report said very little of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s conservation funding goes to help pay for climate-smart practices. Faber said only about 23 percent of funding from the Environmental Quality Incentive Program, and 5 percent of the Conservation Stewardship Program, went to these practices.

“This is a not a not a case of farmers failing to do their part. This is a case of USDA failing to do USDA's part. And ultimately, it's Congress's responsibility to give USDA some new marching orders," he said.

The Inflation Reduction Act did allocate more than $19 billion for climate-smart farming practices to be spread over four years. But Faber said some farm groups want to cut some of that funding in this year’s farm bill — primarily to subsidize cotton, rice and peanut growers in southern states.

The Indiana Farm Bureau wasn’t available for comment.

Rebecca is our energy and environment reporter. Contact her at or follow her on Twitter at @beckythiele.

Rebecca Thiele covers statewide environment and energy issues.