An expert group gathers to discuss this elemental problem. The John Innes Centre’s Allan Downie reports on problems and progress.
What is the nitrogen crisis? It is clear that we have introduced major global shifts in production and use of reactive nitrogen without really knowing what happens to the ammonia and nitrogen oxides released to the environment.
The production of nitrogen fertiliser and combustion of fossil fuels doubles the amount of reactive N entering the nitrogen cycle annually.
Continue reading The nitrogen crisis: what are the solutions?
Nitrous oxide’s contribution to climate change is no laughing matter, says Keith Goulding.
Carbon dioxide is the most commonly recognised enemy in terms of its contribution to greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions, and certainly the biggest culprit in terms of volume, but there are other gases, closely tied with food production, that are also major targets for reduction.
Farming is responsible for about 8% of the UK’s GHG emissions (up to about 19% when the road to consumption is included) but about 40% of its methane emissions, which mainly come from livestock, and 76% of its nitrous oxide emissions, which are mainly due to fertiliser use.
Continue reading Tackling agriculture’s greenhouse-gas emissions
Through our understanding of how plants secure their own nutritional requirements, we can provide new solutions for sustainable food production for the world’s growing population.
Plants must secure high levels of nitrogen, and in conventional agriculture nitrogen is added at high concentrations in the form of inorganic fertilisers. Artificial nitrogenous fertilisers can increase yield by as much as 50% and the global farming system, and hence our own food supply, is now dependent on them. We would face very severe food shortages if nitrogen fertilisers were to become unavailable.
Continue reading Getting to the root of food security
In 1898, Sir William Crookes, then President of the British Association stated that: “England and all the civilised nations stand in deadly peril of not having enough to eat”. He was referring to Britain’s reliance on imported wheat and concerns that there was insufficient land to meet global demand when yields were around 1.5 tonnes per hectare.
Crookes was aware of the pioneering work of Sir John Lawes and Sir Henry Gilbert who showed that wheat yields of up to four tonnes per hectare could be produced year after year by application of nitrogen fertilisers. Crookes proposed that the power of Niagara Falls should be harnessed for “oxidating free nitrogen of the air” and thereby enabling “twelve million tons of nitrate of soda to be applied to the global wheat crop”.
Continue reading The need for nitrogen – is sustainable food production possible?