The element nitrogen can be favorable as well as unfavorable for plants. On the one hand, it’s a vital element for plant growth. On the other hand, it is a leading cause of global pollution. However, sustainable use of nitrogen helps you have balanced positive and negative impacts.
Nitrogen loss during food production is a trending research topic for most researchers. An American Society of Agronomy member, Xia Liang, also researches the same issue.
Lian and his colleagues created a framework for accurately measuring nitrogen loss. They used a variety of food products and crops during this research. They have also presented their study at the virtual 2020 ASA-CSSA-SSSA Annual Meeting.
At the meeting, Lian explains that it is possible to capture the societal costs and environmental costs of nitrogen losses with the help of this framework. Thus, they can provide valuable information to policymakers, producers, and consumers.
The team believes that their research will help develop more sustainable, more profitable, and less polluting agricultural systems.
Their framework helps measure the intensity of nitrogen loss and overall nitrogen loss. Nitrogen loss intensity is defined as the loss of nitrogen per food unit. Thus, it will become easy to compare different food items and crops.
For instance, cereal grains have low-intensity loss. However, the overall loss is high because of their growth in large quantities.
On the contrary, the overall loss for buffalo meat is low. However, the loss intensity for all animal products is high.
The framework indicates that all food products have different loss intensity and quantity. It could also vary for other countries and farmers. The database includes 11 livestock commodities and 115 crops.
The leading cause of nitrogen pollution across the globe is cattle. They are followed by soybeans, pork, maize, wheat, and rice. The highest loss intensity is for beef, followed by pork, lamb, and other livestock products. Generally, livestock has higher loss intensity than crop products.
According to Liang, the 11 livestock products have low nitrogen loss than their vegetable substitutes. It indicates how important it is to change diet to reduce nitrogen loss.
Harmful Impacts of nitrogen loss
The nitrogen loss from fields is harmful. Following are some detrimental impacts of nitrogen loss. It
- Cause climate change, especially smog.
- Harms water, soil, and the species living in them
- Cause illness in human
Managing nitrogen content
Liang mentions that the safe nitrogen limit has been exceeded two-fold due to recent human activities.
The solutions to this issue are complex. However, it’s possible to manage the nitrogen content with the help of suitable techniques. These techniques include,
- Fertilizer technologies
- Improved crop varieties
- 4 R’s
It indicates that nitrogen content can be managed using the right amount of fertilizer at the right time. The techniques for managing the nitrogen content in livestock may be different.
However, only the on-farm solutions are not enough. It is also essential to have an economic approach.
A suitable economic approach offers incentives to adopt improved nitrogen management practices. For example, the wise use of incentives to take appropriate measures helps maintain the soil’s nitrogen content. As a result, there will be a low risk of fertilizers overuse, soil erosion, and soil degradation.
According to her, adopting sustainable human activities can also bring change. For instance, people can reduce food waste and meat consumption.
“When we buy a washing machine or a car, we can choose a more water efficient and energy efficient product by water and energy rating,” Liang says. “However, despite growing recognition of the importance of nitrogen in sustainable food production and consumption, we don’t follow a similar idea for foods we eat.”
Who supported the research?
Xia Liang works as an agricultural researcher at the University of Melbourne. Their research is supported by the Environment and Incitec Pivot Limited, Healthy Soil for Sustainable Food production, Australia-China Joint Research Centre, Australia Research Council, Meat Livestock Australia, and the University of Melbourne Research Initiatives Fund Grant Scheme of the Faculty of Veterinary and Agricultural Sciences.