Browsing Crops, Environment & Land Use Programme by Funder "Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, Northern Ireland"
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Can the agronomic performance of urea equal calcium ammonium nitrate across nitrogen rates in temperate grassland?In temperate grassland, urea has been shown to have lower nitrous oxide emissions compared to ammonium nitrate-based fertilizer and is less expensive. However, nitrogen (N) loss via ammonia volatilization from urea raises questions regarding yield performance and efficiency. This study compares the yield and N offtake of grass fertilized with urea, calcium ammonium nitrate (CAN) and urea treated with the urease inhibitor N-(n-butyl) thiophosphoric triamide (NBPT) at six site-years. Five annual fertilizer N rates (100–500 kg N/ha) were applied in five equal splits of 20–100 kg N/ha during the growing season. On average, urea produced slightly better yields than CAN in spring (103.5% of CAN yield) and slightly poorer yields in summer (98.4% of CAN yield). There was no significant difference in annual grass yield between urea, CAN and urea + NBPT. Urea had the lowest cost per tonne of DM grass yield produced. However, the urea treatment had lower N offtake than CAN and this difference was more pronounced as the N rate increased. There was no difference in N offtake between urea + NBPT and CAN. While this study shows that urea produced yields comparable to CAN, urea apparent fertilizer N recovery (AFNR) tends to be lower. Urea selection in place of CAN will increase national ammonia emissions which is problematic for countries with targets to reduce ammonia emissions. Promisingly, NBPT allows the agronomic performance of urea to consistently equal CAN across N rates by addressing the ammonia loss limitations of urea.
Effects of urease and nitrification inhibitors on yields and emissions in grassland and spring barleyIn trials conducted in the temperate maritime climate of Ireland on a range of acidic soils, calcium ammonium nitrate (CAN) and urea gave comparable yield performance. There was little evidence of reduced yields by using urea for grassland or spring barley. Our finding that urea produced annual yields that were not significantly different from CAN differs from previous studies which found that yields from urea were lower than those from ammonium nitrate or nitrate based fertiliser in the UK. However, there are also published results from trials conducted in temperate Irish grassland showing equal yield performance of CAN and urea in the 1970s. Based on yield performance and the cost of fertiliser there is scope to dramatically increase the level of urea usage in straight and blended fertilisers in the temperate maritime climate of Ireland in both grassland and spring barley. Such an increase will bring substantial benefits in terms of reducing direct nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions from fertiliser applied to soil, particularly in poorly draining soils subject to high levels of precipitation. Nitrogen recovery by plants tends to be more sensitive to differences in fertiliser efficiency than is yield. Although yields did not differ between urea and CAN; urea had a lower nitrogen recovery indicating that urea usage will also result in a reduced level of fertiliser use efficiency. Reduced efficiency is less tangible to farmers who tend to be primarily concerned with dependable yield results. Reduced efficiency is a problem nonetheless, particularly as it is closely linked to NH3 emissions in urea usage. European countries including Ireland have committed to reduce national NH3 emissions to comply with the revised National Emission Ceilings Directive (2001/81/EC) in Europe. Increased urea usage, which looks attractive from a yield, cost and direct N2O perspective in Ireland, runs counter to meeting these commitments. Additionally, NH3 is a source of indirect N2O emissions that will negate some of the N2O savings from urea. Due to the issues of yield dependability, fertiliser efficiency, N2O and NH3 emissions the urease inhibitor N-(n-butyl) thiophosphoric triamide (NBPT) is a particularly attractive option for making urea use more efficient by addressing its key weakness in the area of variable NH3 loss and efficiency. The urease inhibitor NBPT along with the nitrification inhibitor dicyandiamide (DCD) were tested with urea in comparison with calcium ammonium nitrate (CAN). The nitrification inhibitor DCD was very effective in reducing fertiliser N associated N2O emissions. Indeed, its usage allowed N2O levels to be reduced to levels comparable to where no application of N fertiliser was made at some site-years. However, at the DCD incorporation rate tested, DCD contributed to variability in NH3 loss from urea and suppressed both yield response and fertiliser efficiency. Use of the urease inhibitor NBPT in addition to DCD went a substantial way to resolving these shortcomings. Continuing work is needed to tailor the rate of existing and new urease and nitrification inhibitors to optimise the balance between suppression of gaseous N emissions, agronomic performance and economic considerations.
Gross nitrogen transformations in grassland soil react differently to urea stabilisers under laboratory and field conditionsA laboratory and a field study were conducted on a permanent grassland soil in Northern Ireland to investigate the effects of urea in combination with N process inhibitors such as the urease inhibitor N-(butyl) thiophosphoric triamide (NBPT) and/or the nitrification inhibitor dicyandiamide (DCD) on soil N dynamics. Urea enriched with n-butyl 15N to 60 atom % was applied to soil at a rate of 100 μg N g−1 dry soil in the laboratory and 100 kg N ha−1 in the field. A numerical 15N tracing model was used to quantify several simultaneously occurring gross N transformation rates in both studies. The changes in soil nitrate (NO3−) and ammonium (NH4+) concentrations and 15N enrichment over a 25-day period as well as the concentration and 15N enrichment of plant N at harvest were used to model soil gross N transformations. The results showed that the effect of N process inhibitors varied firstly between laboratory and field studies and secondly whether the inhibitors were applied individually or in combination. Overall DCD had a greater effect on the major soil N transformations than NBPT; reducing oxidation of NH4+, total nitrification, net NO3− produced, total mineralisation and the net adsorption of NH4+ at both laboratory and field scale. The effect of DCD was similar for these transformations whether applied alone or co-applied with NBPT. In contrast NBPT had no significant effect on oxidation of NH4+, total nitrification, total mineralisation or total immobilisation compared to urea in the field, while the effect on these transformations in the laboratory was significant. The contrasting effects of inhibitors on gross N transformations between laboratory and field may relate to the differences in experimental conditions, e.g. soil preparation, environmental conditions and the contribution of plant biomass. To obtain a more realistic assessment of gross soil N transformations in situ, it is essential that laboratory experiments are supplemented with field studies.