Fertilizer Produces Nitrous Oxide at Exponential Rates

The agricultural industry accounts for 5.4 percent of the United States’ Gross Domestic Product (GDP), contributing $1.053 trillion in 2017 alone. And this industry doesn’t end with farming; agricultural sectors extend to forestry, fishing, food and beverage, food service, and apparel industries too. Without this industry, 11 percent of U.S. employment would vanish, and Americans would be without food or clothing.

While the agricultural industry plays a major role in the U.S. economy, it also plays a major role in the greenhouse effect, earning the fourth spot in the leading greenhouse gas emissions list. When gases, such as carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and ozone, are released into the air, they absorb and emit infrared radiation, thus causing the greenhouse effect.

The Nitrogen Cycle

Nitrous oxide (N2O) is an important greenhouse gas that results largely from agricultural methods, though there are other sources that supply N2O to the atmosphere. When nitrogen (N) enters the soil via fertilizer and animal waste, microbes within the soil consume the excess N and then release N2O into the atmosphere as gas. Roughly 50 percent of N added to crops is absorbed by the crop itself, leaving 50 percent to feed microbes. What happens, however, when farmers add excess fertilizer to soil?

Nitrous Oxide Emissions Exponentially Increase due to Excess Fertilizer

In the mid-2000s, scientists calculated that microbes release one kilogram of N2O per every 100 kilograms of fertilizer—a one percent ratio—thus leading scientists to believe that N2O emissions increase linearly. Yet, when compared to real-world numbers, scientists found that N2O emissions were not increasing linearly as they had expected; rather, they were increasing exponentially, as the percent ratio of N2O to fertilizer was roughly one and a half to five percent as opposed to the predicted one percent.

To understand this discrepancy, in 2005, scientists conducted corn experiments in Michigan. Phil Robertson of Michigan State University found that N2O emissions were increasing exponentially due to farmers’ excessive use of fertilizer. Because crops only absorb 50 percent of N from fertilizer, microbes consume the rest, and when farmers add excess fertilizer to their soil, this provides microbes with even more N.

To determine if this was a global occurrence, Robertson and his colleagues reexamined more than 200 experiments, examining N2O emissions of various fertilizer levels in 84 locations worldwide. In the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Robertson and his team confirm that N2O was increasing exponentially rather than linearly, as farmers were using far more fertilizer than necessary.

At xVirity, we believe in supporting a healthy environment, which is why we developed a fertilizer free of salts. To support your environment, reduce the amount of N2O emitted by microbes by following these steps:

  • Use the right fertilizer: xVital complements your unique plant care regimen, as it provides you the opportunity to adjust the ratio of xVital to water.
  • Apply fertilizer at the right time: Apply fertilizer a few weeks after planting crops, as it increases the likelihood that N will be absorbed by the crop rather than microbes.
  • Apply fertilizer in the right place: Place N closer to plant roots to better ensure that plants will absorb the N. If you spread fertilizer throughout the soil, it is less likely that the plant will absorb the N and that it will end up being consumed by a microbe.

You don’t need to trade your car in for a bike in order to help the environment. Do your part to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by following the steps outlined above, and check out xVital today!



Fertilizer Produces far more Greenhouse gas than Expected

Management of Nitrogen Fertilizer to Reduce Nitrous Oxide Emissions from Field Crops (E3152)

Ag and Food Sectors and the Economy