More needs to be made of improved nitrogen management to curb climate change

More than a quarter of farmers in the UK and Republic of Ireland are yet to be convinced improved nitrogen management could be important in reducing farming’s impact on climate change.


That’s the finding of a recent poll conducted by Map of Ag’s National Farm Research Unit in the run-up to the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26).

The agrifood industry has come under increasing scrutiny for its impact on climate change and organisations have started to set targets to reduce Green House Gasses (GHGs) and become Net Zero, some as early as 2030.

Much has been made of opportunities from carbon sequestration and carbon credits, though these are yet to secure a stable return on investment for the farmer. Nitrogen though, presents a significant and often overlooked opportunity to reduce inputs, emissions and improve soils all while savings costs for the farmer. But how well does the industry know this?

We polled 2,395 farmers across the UK and the Republic of Ireland (RoI), and when their responses were weighted against our industry model (Farm Structures Model), the findings suggested some 165,000 farmers believed that nitrogen management is an important factor in the reduction of on-farm emissions.

Regions showing a greater understanding of its importance were the South East and Wales, both at 81%. By sector, dairy showed a greater understanding (74%), and across all sectors it was the larger-scale enterprises which were more engaged with the idea of improved nitrogen management to reduce farming’s impact on climate change.

But of the farmers polled, 12% were unsure of the importance of nitrogen management and 15% were indifferent or thought it was not important, representing over 61,000 farmers across the UK and RoI.

Map of Ag has been working on a collaborative project with European Food and Farming Partnerships and Kellogg’s Origins to measure, manage and mitigate nitrogen usage for arable crops.

Hugh Martineau, Head of Sustainability at Map of Ag, explains:

“Nitrous oxide occupies the largest share of greenhouse gas emissions for arable production, generally 70 – 80% per unit. By tackling nitrogen we can lower the emissions impact, as well as tackling the environmental impacts on water and air quality, biodiversity and nitrogen deposition, which disrupts sensitive habitats.”

 “With our Kellogg’s origins grower group, we have been using sensors to monitor nitrogen requirements across a group of Origins farmers, and we discovered  in certain circumstances, application rates could be cut by as much as 25% while achieving the same crop yield.”

The hope is that showcasing initiatives like this will increase awareness and highlight the need for further incentives needed to reduce barriers and engage farmers with methods and tools to manage their nitrogen use efficiency.

The climate change impacts of that improved engagement could be significant. Access to good data will be crucial to effect the much-needed changes to practice.

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