A new report looks at the “critical” value of nitrogen in delivering sustainable and circular food systems.

The ‘Why Nitrogen Matters in Livestock Production’ report, released by CIEL (Centre for Innovation Excellence in Livestock), seeks to understand how farms can better utilise nitrogen and encourage effective nitrogen cycling. 

See also: Policy changes needed to deliver net-zero in poultry sector

Mark Young, innovation specialist at CIEL, said the report has identified that the livestock sector can use nitrogen more effectively by appreciating the nitrogen cycle and monitoring and managing 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 said.

“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 added. 

“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 its potential, this report explores the natural nitrogen cycle. 

It also explains how agricultural practices shape the cycle and the offers suggestions to improve nitrogen use. 

Dr Young added: “The report identified the critical need for farmers to have 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.”

To read the report in full, visit Why Nitrogen Matters in Livestock Production 2023 | CIEL (cielivestock.co.uk)

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