April 1 (UPI) -- The way farmers produce corn could be killing thousands of Americans, new findings show.
About 4,300 premature deaths occur each year in the United States due to environmental damage brought on by corn production, according to a study published Monday in Nature Sustainability. That environmental damage accounts for nearly $40 billion in costs.
"The deaths caused per bushel in western corn belt states such as Minnesota, Iowa, and Nebraska tend to be lower than in eastern corn belt states such as Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio," Jason Hill, a researcher at University of Minnesota and study lead author, said in a news release.
The study also showed that the damage varies depending which part of the country the crop is grown. And that costs of damage incurred by the environment exceeds the market value of the corn.
Emissions from ammonia raise concentrations of fine particulate matter, or PM2.5, which is a known air pollutant. Costs from the air quality lost by those particulates are estimated to be, on average, $3.07 per bushel of corn produced.
"It's important for farmers to have this information so that they can implement practices that reduce the environmental impact of the crops they grow," Hill said. "Farmers can greatly improve the environmental profile of their corn by using precision agriculture tools and switching to fertilizers that have lower ammonia emissions."
The researchers estimate that life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions caused by corn production cost nearly $5 billion for total climate change damages.
The researchers recommend that farmers take advantage of innovations in corn production meant to reduce the harm to the environment, and ultimately humans. These include using nitrogen more efficiently and moving to different areas to grow corn.
"Not only are ammonia emissions from fertilizer damaging to human health, they are also a waste of money for farmers because they are not getting the benefit of the nitrogen that they're paying for," Hill said. "The number of deaths related to corn production could be reduced through these key tactics."