School of Public Policy Capstones

Publication Date



In the United States, the application of fertilizer in the agricultural industry too often leads to negative externalities, including the runoff of excess fertilizer into local waterways and the atmosphere, as well as the depletion of macro- and micronutrients from the soil over time. The consequences of these externalities can be costly, such as algal bloom in waterways, ozone depletion in the atmosphere, and perhaps most importantly a depletion of the nutrition value and hardiness of future crops. Given that these are broad-spanning problems that affect societal issues, including environmental sustainability and food justice, it is important for the federal government to ensure that the most efficient, effective, and equitable fertilization alternative is being put into practice. As the government’s most direct method of regulating behavior in the agricultural market is the utilization of subsidies, the alternatives laid out for this analysis include maintaining the status quo of compensating for conventional fertilizer shortfalls with pesticides and herbicides by maintaining the current subsidy program, limiting subsidy provision to USDA-approved organic farms utilizing organic fertilizer, or limiting subsidy provision to farms utilizing remineralization techniques through the application of rock dust. Through this analysis, it was revealed that the current status quo represents the profit maximization alternative by producing the greatest crop yield, though it is obtained at great cost via externalities. As such, the recommended alternative is to incentivize the utilization of both USDA-approved organic fertilizer and remineralization amendments, which combined together have the capacity to meet or exceed current crop yield figures while also providing for more sustainable agricultural practices.