SAPS: In/from farming, effective crop nutrient, water delivery can mean better growing, better air

Number 8 in the Sustainable Agricultural Practices Series.

When it comes to crop growing in general, by paying particularly close attention to detail to things like what soil nutrients to use and how to, how often and when to apply, this plus determining the best way to deliver nutrients and water, can make all the difference in terms of crop yield and quality and possibly air quality too, probably even more so where larger- and large-scale farming is being done.

It’s important – all of it.

And Diane Nelson of the University of California in her Mar. 2018 Fruit Growers News article: “Researchers seek solutions benefitting ag, environment,” seems to agree.

The UC academician much farther along in her article goes on to provide relevant data about how, in California, emissions of NOx from farming activities have declined considerably during the past 30 years and cites two predominant reasons for this: 1) a switchover from “high-input row crops” to “perennial cropping systems;” and 2) adoption of what’s referred to in her article as “micro-fertigation-irrigation.”

As for the latter, to what is Nelson referring? “Over the past decade, more farmers have switched from furrow irrigation to subsurface drip and other efficient irrigation, which reduces water use, nutrient runoff and greenhouse gas emissions.”

Feeding plants nutrients in a precise manner is exactly what micro-irrigation technology enables growers to do which also can be described as adoption or application of water customization, such increasing “fertilizer efficiency,” adds Nelson.

In terms of fertilizer usage, what we’re talking about here specifically is nitrogen fertilizer. Application of, in this case, nitrogen as a soil amendment, when done properly, can make all the difference in the world and in the air too, where nitrogen oxide is concerned.

Elaborating further, Nelson offers: “Researchers from the UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (CA&ES) are working with farmers and ranchers, environmentalists, industry, and public agencies to find practical, science-based solutions to the world’s most pressing problems, including managing nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions from farmland.”

Moreover, the UC academician continues: “Nobody wants excess NOx emissions. NOx emissions are central to forming ground-level ozone that can contribute to health concerns such as heart disease and asthma and harm crops and other plants, as well. …Farmers don’t want expensive inputs such as fertilizers to escape into the air. Like everyone else, farmers benefit when they apply only the amount of fertilizer needed to increase crop quality and yield.”

Being that nitrogen is needed to grow all plants, according to Nelson, soil nitrogen or nutrient leaching from over-application can have a negative impact on water resources such as drinking-water supplies.

And, how does one determine if too much nitrogen is being added to soil and, by extension, excess NOx being introduced into the air? This is determined through measurements of such taken; it’s a quite involved process, according to Nelson.

As she explains, “Measuring NOx emissions is not easy. It requires specialized instruments, and emission rates vary widely depending on temperature, irrigation, rainfall, fertilizer timing and application amounts, and other events. Emissions will rise after the first rainfall after applying fertilizer, for example.”

The main point is that such can be measured.

Finally, if the proof is in the pudding, through conducted, related research, the evidence shows that with drip irrigation, increased crop yields can be had (in the article referenced specifically were tomatoes) compared with comparable amounts of nitrogen fertilizer and water applied using “flood irrigation practices,” all the while dramatically lowering emissions of, in this case, nitrous oxide or N2O.

And, as to the points of discussion above, these are not limited to the out-in-the-country-located farm only, they equally, as well, should prove resourceful, meaningful and apply wherever soil-based crop-growing takes place.

Fruit Growers News magazine may be accessed here.

Images: Stephen Ausmus (upper); Scott Bauer (lower), both of the U.S.D.A. Agricultural Research Service

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