Nitrogen: Friend or Foe?
Nitrogen is an essential component of the air we breathe, but it is also a hot topic when it comes to the environment, particularly agriculture’s contribution. While some forms of nitrogen are vital for life and growth, others cause dangerous and costly nitrogen pollution. In terms of animal and crop production, nitrogen is a crucial input for fertilizers and animal feed. As with everything, balance is key: too little nitrogen and plants and animals cannot thrive, leading to low yields; but too much nitrogen can be toxic and harm our environment.
So, where do the losses occur? Unfortunately, much of the nitrogen in fertilizer and feed is lost to the wider environment because it is unused. This is a waste of resources and farmers’ money!
Typically, 50% of applied nitrogen fertilizer is absorbed by plants, and a large portion can be lost as ammonia to the air. The remainder is lost as nitrous oxide, a potent greenhouse gas, and nitrogen gas. Not only is it an environmental burden, but a financial one, too, as losses in fertilizer nitrogen value is estimated to cost farmers up to US$16 billion each year.
Ensuring animals get the most out of protein they consume is an essential step in overcoming this challenge. Ruminants have a particularly low efficiency rating, excreting 75–95% of dietary nitrogen in manure and urine. Each year, ruminants excrete 74 million metric tons of nitrogen. Choosing the right protein to improve nitrogen utilization within the animal can help farmers avoid such losses in feed inputs.
The nitrogen challenge knows no geographical boundaries and the fallout is all around us; aquatic life is suffering in the Chesapeake Bay in the United States, a dead zone has appeared in the Gulf of Mexico, a “Dirty Dairying” campaign was triggered in New Zealand and policymakers in Europe have taken action by setting reduction targets for ammonia emissions from agriculture.
Working together for a Planet of Plenty™
Despite being a complex problem, there are many opportunities to improve nitrogen utilization on farms, benefiting farmers but also the entire supply chain and, ultimately, our planet. Alltech is committed to helping the industry overcome this challenge and is collaborating with supply chain stakeholders to deliver a solution. Some existing Alltech technologies address many aspects of this challenge, and we are currently deepening our scientific research evidence to demonstrate their efficacy. Watch this space!