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Nitrogen use in the spotlight as grain industry pushes to reduce greenhouse gas emissions

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With a number of governments around the globe pursuing limits on nitrogen fertiliser use in agriculture, how would farmers adapt if the Australian authorities took an identical strategy?

Birchip Cropping Group senior analysis supervisor James Murray mentioned the apparent option to cut back emissions from nitrogen fertiliser was to make use of much less of it.

“I suppose naturally the go-to choice is to develop extra legumes within the rotation, as a result of once we develop legumes we need not apply nitrogen to fulfill manufacturing,” he mentioned.

“Nevertheless it’s not so simple as that, as a result of there are greenhouse fuel emissions comparable to nitrous oxide related to the breakdown of legume stubbles.”

In broadacre cropping, fertiliser manufacturing and use accounted for 58 per cent of the Australian wheat crop’s greenhouse fuel footprint previously 5 years, in response to the Division of Agriculture.

Of that, 31 per cent occurred on-farm, a big a part of which got here via the volatilisation of nitrogen fertiliser, the place nitrous oxide is launched into the ambiance.

Nitrous oxide is a greenhouse fuel that’s nearly 300 occasions stronger than carbon dioxide.

A man with short fair hair, wearing a jumper, stands beside a window with a logo and "BCG" written on it.
James Murray says no matter motivating components, extra environment friendly fertiliser use will profit each the surroundings and the hip pocket.(ABC Rural: Angus Verley)

Other than rising extra nitrogen-fixing legumes to cut back fertiliser use, Mr Murray says there are merchandise obtainable to gradual the volatilisation course of, which happens when nitrogen is utilized to a crop and there’s inadequate rainfall following utility to interrupt it down.

“There are a few merchandise available on the market — one is a urease inhibitor, which reduces that volatilisation danger by slowing that launch once you apply if you do not get follow-up rainfall comparatively shortly,” he mentioned.

“The opposite one is a polymer coating, which slows the discharge of nitrogen fairly considerably.

“However the problem with them is they don’t seem to be essentially cost-effective to utilise, with the urease inhibitor retailing for about $50 a tonne on prime of your urea price, so it opens up a query about how price efficient that’s within the farming system.”

Mr Murray mentioned whether or not or not farmers used a urease inhibitor, there was important worth in getting nitrogen utility proper and minimising volatilisation.

“We discuss a bit in regards to the 4 Rs — so the fitting price, the fitting product, the fitting supply and the fitting timing, which on the finish of the day may have important advantages for manufacturing, and if we’re lowering our greenhouse fuel footprint on the identical time, that is a bonus,” he mentioned.

Nations together with New Zealand, Canada and the Netherlands are pursuing limits on fertiliser utility to cut back emissions, which Mr Murray says is a consideration for farmers right here.

“There are concerns round market entry and potential future mandates on how issues are utilised,” he mentioned.

“I believe there’s an incredible alternative for the Australian grains trade to be forward of the sport on these things, whether or not it is for market entry or potential mandate concerns.

“When it comes to enhancing the way in which we use our inputs, the most important profit is to the underside line by way of enhancing crop manufacturing.”

A pair of hands cradling innumerable small balls light-coloured of fertiliser.
Urea can launch nitrous oxide into the ambiance.(ABC Wimmera: Andrew Kelso)

What are the options?

Some farmers are trialling options to artificial fertiliser beneath the broad umbrella of “regenerative agriculture”.