Navigation Links
How much fertilizer is too much for the climate?

EAST LANSING, Mich. Helping farmers around the globe apply more-precise amounts of nitrogen-based fertilizer can help combat climate change.

In a new study published in this week's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Michigan State University researchers provide an improved prediction of nitrogen fertilizer's contribution to greenhouse gas emissions from agricultural fields.

The study uses data from around the world to show that emissions of nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas produced in the soil following nitrogen addition, rise faster than previously expected when fertilizer rates exceed crop needs.

Nitrogen-based fertilizers spur greenhouse gas emissions by stimulating microbes in the soil to produce more nitrous oxide. Nitrous oxide is the third most important greenhouse gas, behind only carbon dioxide and methane, and also destroys stratospheric ozone. Agriculture accounts for around 80 percent of human-caused nitrous oxide emissions worldwide, which have increased substantially in recent years, primarily due to increased nitrogen fertilizer use.

"Our specific motivation is to learn where to best target agricultural efforts to slow global warming," said Phil Robertson, director of MSU's Kellogg Biological Station Long-term Ecological Research Program and senior author of the paper. "Agriculture accounts for 8 to 14 percent of all greenhouse gas production globally. We're showing how farmers can help to reduce this number by applying nitrogen fertilizer more precisely."

The production of nitrous oxide can be greatly reduced if the amount of fertilizer crops need is exactly the amount that's applied to farmers' fields. Simply put, when plant nitrogen needs are matched with the nitrogen that's supplied, fertilizer has substantially less effect on greenhouse gas emission, Robertson said.

Iurii Shcherbak, lead author and MSU researcher, noted that the research also informs fertilizer practices in underfertilized areas such as sub-Saharan Africa.

"Because nitrous oxide emissions won't be accelerated by fertilizers until crop nitrogen needs are met, more nitrogen fertilizer can be added to underfertilized crops with little impact on emissions," she said.

Adding less nitrogen to overfertilized crops elsewhere, however, would deliver major reductions to greenhouse gas emissions in those regions.

This study provides support for expanding the use of carbon credits to pay farmers for better fertilizer management. Carbon credits for fertilizer management are now available to U.S. corn farmers. This paper provides a framework for using this system around the world.

The research was funded by the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy's Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center and the Electric Power Research Institute. Robertson's work also is funded in part by MSU AgBioresearch.


Contact: Layne Cameron
Michigan State University

Related biology news :

1. Fertilizer in small doses yields higher returns for less money
2. Worldwide study finds that fertilizer destabilizes grasslands
3. Engineers teach old chemical new tricks to make cleaner fuels, fertilizers
4. Study challenges soil testing for potassium and the fertilizer value of potassium chloride
5. Nitrogen fertilizer remains in soils and leaks towards groundwater for decades, researchers find
6. Vetch cover crop, fertilizer practices recommended for organic zucchini
7. Strengthening legumes to tackle fertilizer pollution
8. Fertilizers could help tackle nutritional deficiency in African country, researchers say
9. Turf study to monitor runoff, establish fertilizer management practices
10. Using wastewater as fertilizer
11. Scientists develop new carbon accounting method to reduce farmers use of nitrogen fertilizer
Post Your Comments:
(Date:11/9/2015)... 09, 2015 ... the "Global Law Enforcement Biometrics Market ... --> ) has announced the ... Biometrics Market 2015-2019" report to their ... ( ) has announced the addition ...
(Date:10/29/2015)... , Oct. 29, 2015   MedNet Solutions ... the entire spectrum of clinical research, is pleased to ... High Tech Association (MHTA) as one of only three ... the "Software – Small and Growing" category. The Tekne Awards ... who have shown superior technology innovation and leadership. ...
(Date:10/29/2015)... , Oct. 29, 2015  Connected health pioneer, ... the explosion of technology-enabled health and wellness, and the ... book, The Internet of Healthy Things ... or smartphones even existed, Dr. Kvedar, vice president, Connected ... health care delivery, moving care from the hospital or ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:12/1/2015)... ... December 01, 2015 , ... Park Systems ... an add-on scanning ion conductance microscopy module to Park NX10 that is the ... , Park SICM benefits virtually all materials characterization that require measurements in liquid ...
(Date:12/1/2015)... SAN DIEGO , December 1, 2015 Dr. Harry Lander ... serving as Chief Science Officer and recruits ... Dr. Harry Lander , President of Regen, expands his role ... and recruits five distinguished scientists to ... of Regen, expands his role to include ...
(Date:11/30/2015)... ... November 30, 2015 , ... Global Stem Cells Group ... of a new closed system for isolating adipose-derived stem cells. The announcement starts a ... of adipose tissue. SVF is a component of the lipoaspirate obtained from liposuction of ...
(Date:11/30/2015)... 2015 Partnership includes an MPP ... for the u niversity , s ... treatment s cale - up through ... Africa , where licensees based anywhere in the world will have ... --> Africa , where licensees based anywhere in the world ...
Breaking Biology Technology: