. "Use of Materials Balances to Estimate Aggregate Waste Generation in the United States." Measures of Environmental Performance and Ecosystem Condition. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 1999.
The following HTML text is provided to enhance online
readability. Many aspects of typography translate only awkwardly to HTML.
Please use the page image
as the authoritative form to ensure accuracy.
The greatest mass movement from agriculture is the loss of topsoil due to wind and water erosion. A detailed study of topsoil loss in agriculture was carried out by the U.S. Soil Conservation Service in 1982 (Brown and Wolf, 1984). The study found that 44 percent of U.S. cropland was losing topsoil at an unsustainable rate (i.e., faster than the natural rate of soil formation). Topsoil loss in 1982 was estimated at 1,530 MMT. This amount of loss can be assumed to be roughly constant year to year, although optimists believe that the erosion-loss rate is declining as a consequence of increasing use of no-till methods of cultivation. Also, it must be pointed out that eroded material is not necessarily carried out to sea; it may be redeposited on the same field or in the bed of a nearby stream.
To summarize, we estimate overall annual waste from U.S. agriculture as follows: topsoil erosion, 1,500 MMT; undigested and unrecycled feedstuffs (feces) from animals at feeding stations (not including grazing animals on pastures), 25 MMT (50 percent moisture) or 12.5 MMT (dry weight). The latter is mostly undigested cellulose, but includes about 4 percent (0.5 MMT) nitrogen and 1 percent (0.125 MMT) phosphorus. Urine apparently accounts for roughly 42 percent of the total nitrogen content of synthetic fertilizer, or about 4.8 MMT; but this is only the fertilizer contribution. The total must be about three times higher. About a quarter of this (1.2 MMT from fertilizer, 4 MMT total) is volatilized immediately as ammonia; around 2.8 MMT from fertilizer (9 MMT total) ends up in watercourses; the rest goes into groundwater or is recycled back to the land. Ammonia emissions to the atmosphere, direct from fertilizer use, seem to be about 1 MMT N, or 10 percent of inputs, but volatilization losses from manure and urine add another 4 MMT. Other sources (organic decay) add a further contribution. The total for U.S. agriculture is probably around 6.5 MMT per year. Methane emissions to the atmosphere from grazing animals in the United States were apparently about 0.68 MMT (Figure 1). A rough balance for nitrogen and phosphorus is shown in Figure 2.
The food and feed processing sectors entail a number of activities, including grain and oilseed milling, meat and dairy processing, cotton processing, oil products, sugar production, fermentation industries, baking, confectioneries, and canning and freezing. Unfortunately, USDA does not clearly separate these activities or identify their inputs and outputs.
We estimate inputs to the food processing sector (361 MMT) as the gross agricultural production of harvested crops (489 MMT) less harvested crops fed to animals (123 MMT grains and 114 MMT hay) less exports (excluding exports from stockpiles, 133 MMT), plus animal products (111 MMT), fish (3.3 MMT), and net imports of foodstuffs (14 MMT).
The consumption of domestic food products (flour, prepared cereals, pack-