A new report launched on 14 September, looks at the critical value of nitrogen in delivering sustainable and circular food systems.
With nitrogen being a fundamental component of agricultural systems, the ’Why Nitrogen Matters in Livestock Production’ Report released by CIEL (Centre for Innovation Excellence in Livestock) seeks to understand how the industry can better utilise nitrogen and encourage effective nitrogen cycling.
Dr Mark Young, innovation specialist at CIEL, explains the report has identified that the livestock sector can use nitrogen more effectively through an appreciation of the nitrogen cycle and consideration to monitoring and management of nitrogen resources.
“Nitrogen is essential for agriculture. It’s the key element needed for protein production, captured by microbes living in soil, in the roots of plants and colonising the gut of sheep and cattle,” he says.
“However, while some agricultural practices cause excessive loss of nitrogen to the atmosphere and waterways, others can capture nitrogen.
“Losses from the nitrogen cycle cannot be eliminated, so the livestock sector needs to exploit the opportunity to minimise losses and hold more nitrogen in the system,” he says.
“This will make farming both more efficient and reduce losses of nitrogen as nitrous oxide (a greenhouse gas), ammonia emissions, and nitrate through leaching or run-off.”
To better understand nitrogen’s interaction with the environment and the potential, this report by CIEL takes a deep dive into the natural nitrogen cycle, explaining how agricultural practices shape the cycle and the opportunities to improve nitrogen use.
He adds: “The report identified the critical need by for farmers to have for access to reliable tools to measure nitrogen on-farm, soils in particular, to identify and monitor where nitrogen losses occur, in order to maximise nitrogen use efficiency.
“By managing the land and on-farm nitrogen resources such as soils, manures and fertilisers, farmers can make management decisions that will make better use of nitrogen.
“In addition to this, developing on-farm technologies which will help to capture or hold nitrogen, for example in livestock manure, and to make this available for enhancing growth of feed crops will also help to reduce nitrogen losses in the sector.
Dr Young says: “This report provides a rounded picture of nitrogen in agriculture, highlighting its key role in producing high quality protein from livestock and identifying where losses that impact on the environment occur.
“Sustainable agricultural systems should aim to maximise these nutritional benefits while minimising negative environmental impacts.”
To read the report in full, visit https://cielivestock.co.uk/expertise/nitrogen-matters-livestock-production-september-2023/