Losing N always costs money, but doesn't always create an emissions problem


Nitrogen fertilizer applied to land can be lost a few ways — and every pound lost can hurt the pocket book, but some losses are far more of a risk than others, depending on where and how you farm. What’s more, some of those N losses occur in relatively benign losses to the environment. For example, N lost through denitrification as nitrogen gas is still a loss, but it doesn’t add to greenhouse gas concentration in the atmosphere.

But nitrogen fertilizer can also be lost as nitrous oxide, and even if losses are small on the financial front, N lost this way is incredibly bad for the atmosphere. Nitrous oxide is 300 to 400 times more detrimental than carbon dioxide.

How can farmers manage these losses? Minimizing the size of the ammonium pool in the soil through split-application is one way, explains Peter ‘Wheat Pete’ Johnson, RealAgriculture’s resident agronomist. Because the best growing conditions, when it’s warm and there’s a nice rain, is when the process of losing N as nitrous oxide happens.

Another way is to stabilize the nitrogen, with a nitrification inhibitor, he says. You could also split apply N, and do the best job of making sure that N is good and buried and protected, as sometimes in the soil isn’t the slam-dunk of safety we think it is.

One of the challenges to this strategy, however, is that split-applying nitrogen isn’t a consistent yield-builder, even with the added costs. The environmental pay-back though, Johnson explains in the audio below, is much more consistent.

Check out the full conversation between RealAgriculture’s Lyndsey Smith, and Peter Johnson, below:

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