In an effort to maximize agricultural fertilizer efficiency and protect the environment researchers with the University of Saskatchewan are evaluating the volumes and values of soil nitrogen.
Most nitrogen in the soil is in the organic form and includes organic matter such as decomposing plant material.
That nitrogen is the source of inorganic nitrogen, necessary for plant growth but also available for loss into the environment.
Dr. Fran Walley, the head of the University of Saskatchewan’s Department of Soil Science, says, by measuring soil nitrogen, scientists can more accurately calculate the amount of fertilizer that will be needed to grow a crop.
We want to be able to predict, on the basis of the size of the organic N pool and the quality of that organic N pool how much nitrogen will be released during the growing season and that way we can make better estimates of how much fertilizer nitrogen might be required.
Again we want to keep costs down for the farmer and we also don’t want to put too much nitrogen on so that it is being released into the atmosphere and into water tables and what have you.
Increasingly researchers are interested in soil nitrogen from the environmental perspective because we’re all hearing a lot about greenhouse gas production and we understand that nitrous oxide is a very potent greenhouse gas, has a greenhouse gas warming potential about 300 times that of carbon dioxide.
We often talk about CO2 as being an important greenhouse gas but nitrous oxide is also a very important greenhouse gas and so we want to be able to make sure that we minimize how much nitrogen is leaking out of the nitrogen cycle and entering into the atmosphere.
Dr. Walley says, for the public good, we have to be able to understand what the potential is for nitrogen loss into the environment.