Pollution: A Farmer's Best Friend?

CROPS ACROSS EUROPE AND North America are suffering--not because of acid rain, but for a lack of it. While acid rain harms forests, it also contains sulfur, an essential nutrient. Sulfur helps plants grow and fight off pests and poisons.

The problem has become most acute in Europe over the past five years, say scientists--the legacy of cleaning up sulfur-belching electric utilities since the 1970s. Hardest hit: sulfur-hungry plants such as wheat and oilseed rape, which produces oil for food. Yields have fallen in Germany and Scandinavia for barley, oats, and wheat. Although the U.S. has escaped the brunt of this, sulfur-poor crops were spotted recently in the sandy soils of the Carolinas and Arkansas.

Absent bringing back acid rain, the solution is to pay more for sulfur-laden fertilizer. The Sulphur Institute, a trade group, says spending an extra $3.20 per acre for sulfur can hike winter cereal grains' output by $45. But many farmers don't do it, failing to recognize the symptoms. No sulfur problem exists in the U.S. Northeast, where there's still lots of acid rain.

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