The Position of Mineral Nitrogen Fertilizer in Efficient Use of Nitrogen and Land: A Review

DOI: 10.4236/nr.2014.515080   PDF   HTML   XML   3,998 Downloads   5,176 Views   Citations


Our attitude towards mineral nitrogen (N) fertilizers is ambivalent. N fertilizers have on one hand increased our supply of food, feed and other bio-based raw materials tremendously and also improved the use efficiency of land and labor, but have on the other hand a negative impact on the quality of the environment and contributed to the depletion of fossil fuel reserves. This awareness has resulted in strong pleas to spend much more attention to the recycling of N containing downstream “wastes”. It is, however, naive to assume that even perfect recycling suffices to offer the same number of people the same diet without inputs of “new” N, as inevitable losses of N make compensations indispensable. “New” N can be derived from either biological N fixation (“legumes”) or from industrially fixed N (“fertilizer”). The existing literature provides no evidence that the use of N fertilizers is per se unsustainable, as these fertilizers can also be made from renewable forms of energy. Besides, soil health and human health appear sensitive for the dosage but not for the form of N. It is yet imperative to reduce the input of “new” N as much as possible, so as to minimize adverse environmental effects. Measures to this end are a more precise assessment of crop N requirements, a better timing and positioning of N inputs, and any measure supporting the acceptance of “wastes” by farmers. The present paper elaborates the above aspects.

Share and Cite:

Schröder, J. (2014) The Position of Mineral Nitrogen Fertilizer in Efficient Use of Nitrogen and Land: A Review. Natural Resources, 5, 936-948. doi: 10.4236/nr.2014.515080.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.


[1] Erisman, J.W., Van Grinsven, H., Grizzetti, B., Bouraoui, F., Powlson, D., Sutton, M.A., Bleeker, A. and Reis, S. (2011) The European Nitrogen Problem in a Global Perspective. In: Sutton, M.A., et al., Eds., The European Nitrogen Assessment, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 9-31.
[2] Sutton, M.A., Howard, C.M., Erisman, J.W., Bealey, W.J., Billen, G., Bleeker, A., Bouwman, A.F., Grennfelt, P., Van Grinsven, H. and Grizzetti, B. (2011) The Challenge to Integrate Nitrogen Science and Policies: The European Nitrogen Assessment Approach. In: Sutton, M.A., et al., Eds., The European Nitrogen Assessment, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 82-96.
[3] Skowronska, M. and Filipek, T. (2013) Life Cycle Assessment of Fertilizers: A Review. International Agrophysics, 28, 101-110.
[4] Smil, V. (2011) Nitrogen Cycle and World Food Production. World Agriculture, 2, 9-13.
[5] Tilman, D., Cassman, K.G., Matson, P.A., Naylor, R. and Polasky, S. (2002) Agricultural Sustainability and Intensive Production Practices. Nature, 418, 671-677.
[6] Rockstrom, J., Steffen, W., Noone, K., Persson, A., Chapin, F.S., Lambin, E., Lenton, T.M., Scheffer, M., Folke, C., Schellnhuber, H., Nykvist, B., De Wit, C.A., Hughes, T., Van der Leeuw, S., Rodhe, H., Sorlin, S., Snyder, P.K., Costanza, R., Svedin, U., Falkenmark, M., Karlberg, L., Corell, R.W., Fabry, V.J., Hansen, J., Walker, B., Liverman, D., Richardson, K., Crutzen, P. and Foley, J. (2009) Planetary Boundaries: Exploring the Safe Operating Space for Humanity. Ecology and Society, 14, 32.
[7] FAO (2012) World Agriculture towards 2030/2050: The 2012 Revision. ESAE Working Paper No. 12-03.
[8] Gerbens-Leenes, P.W. and Nonhebel, S. (2002) Consumption Patterns and Their Effects on Land Required for Food. Ecological Economics, 42, 185-199.
[9] Oleson, J.E. and Bindi, M. (2002) Consequences of Climate Change for European Agricultural Productivity, Land Use and Policy. European Journal of Agronomy, 16, 239-262.
[10] Brown, A.D. (2003) Feed of Feedback. Agriculture, Population Dynamics and the State of the Planet. International Books, Utrecht.
[11] Smil, V. (2001) Enriching the Earth: Fritz Haber, Carl Bosch, and the Transformation of World Food Production. The MIT Press, Cambridge.
[12] Beukeboom, J.A. (1996) Default Values for Nutrient Book Keeping. Informatie en Kennis Centrum Landbouw, Ede.
[13] Van Duivenbooden, N., De Wit, C.T. and Van Keulen, H. (1996) Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium Relations in Five Major Cereals Reviewed. Fertilizer Research, 44, 37-49.
[14] Davidson, E.A. (2009) The Contribution of Manure and Fertilizer Nitrogen to Atmospheric Nitrous Oxide since 1860. Nature Geoscience, 2, 659-662.
[15] Oenema, O. and Tamminga, S. (2005) Nitrogen in Global Animal Production and Management Options for Improving Nitrogen Use Efficiency. Science in China. Series C: Life Sciences, 48, 871-887.
[16] Moran, K. (2011) Role of Micronutrients in Maximizing Yields and in Biofortification of Food Crops. Proceedings 702, International Fertilizer Society, Leek, 28 p.
[17] Schroder, J.J. (2005) Manure as a Suitable Component of Precise Nitrogen Nutrition. Proceedings 574, International Fertiliser Society, York, 32 p.
[18] Herridge, D.F., Peoples, M.B. and Boddey, R.M. (2008) Global Inputs of Biological Nitrogen Fixation in Agricultural Systems. Plant and Soil, 311, 1-18.
[19] Dawson, C.J. and Hilton, J. (2011) Fertiliser Availability in a Resource-Limited World: Production and Recycling of Nitrogen and Phosphorus. Food Policy, 36, 14-22.
[20] Schroder, J.J., Ten Holte, L. and Janssen, B.H. (1997) Non-Overwintering Cover Crops: A Significant Source of N. Netherlands Journal of Agricultural Science, 45, 231-248.
[21] Schroder, J.J. and Sorensen, P. (2011) The Role of Mineral Fertilizers in Optimising the Use Efficiency of Manure and Land. Proceedings 701, International Fertiliser Society, Leek, 20 p.
[22] De Klein, C.A.M., Van Logtestijn, R.S.P., Van der Meer, H.G. and Geurink, J.H. (1996) Nitrogen Loss from Cattle Slurry Injected into Grassland Soil with and without a Nitrification Inhibitor. Plant and Soil, 183, 161-170.
[23] Flessa, H. and Beese, F. (2000) Laboratory Estimates of Trace Gas Emissions Following Surface Application and Injection of Cattle Slurry. Journal of Environmental Quality, 29, 262-268.
[24] Huijsmans, J. and Schils, R.L.M. (2009) Ammonia and Nitrous Oxide Emissions Following Field Application of Manure: State of the Art Measurement in the Netherlands. Proceedings 655, International Fertiliser Society, Leek, 37 p.
[25] Webb, J., Sorensen, P., Velthof, G., Amon, B., Pinto, M., Rodhe, L., Salomon, E., Hutchings, N., Burczyk, P. and Reid, J. (2013) An Assessment of the Variation of Manure Nitrogen Efficiency throughout Europe and an Appraisal of Means to Increase Manure-N Efficiency. Advances in Agronomy, 119, 371-442.
[26] Schroder, J.J., Uenk, D. and Hilhorst, G.J. (2007) Long-Term Nitrogen Fertilizer Replacement Value of Cattle Manures Applied to Cut Grassland. Plant and Soil, 299, 83-99.
[27] Schroder, J.J., Aarts, H.F.M., Ten Berge, H.F.M., Van Keulen, H. and Neeteson, J.J. (2003) An Evaluation of WholeFarm Nitrogen Balances and Related Indices for Efficient Nitrogen Use. European Journal of Agronomy, 20, 33-44.
[28] Wuana, A. and Okieimen, F.E. (2011) Heavy Metals in Contaminated Soils: A Review of Sources, Chemistry, Risks and Best Available Strategies for Remediation. ISRN Ecology, 2011, Article ID: 402647.
[29] Fealy, R. and Schroder, J.J. (2008) Assessment of Manure Transport Distances and Their Impact on Economic and Energy Cost. Proceedings 642, International Fertiliser Society, York, 28 p.
[30] Foged, H.L., Flotats, X., Blasi, A.B., Palatsi, J., Magri, A. and Schelde, K.M. (2011) Inventory of Manure Processing Activities in Europe. Technical Report No. I (ENV.B.1/ETU/2010/0007) to the European Commission, DirectorateGeneral Environment, 138 p.
[31] Hjorth, M., Christensen, K.V., Christensen, M.L. and Sommer, S.G. (2010) Solid Liquid Separation of Animal Slurry in Theory and Practice: A Review. Agronomy for Sustainable Development, 30, 153-180.
[32] De Vries, J.W., Groenestein, C.M. and De Boer, I.J.M. (2012) Environmental Consequences of Processing Manure to Produce Mineral Fertilizer and Bio-Energy. Journal of Environmental Management, 102, 173-183.
[33] Dangour, A.D., Dodhia, S.K., Hayter, A., Allen, E., Lock, K. and Uauy, R. (2009) Nutritional Quality of Organic Foods: A Systematic Review. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 90, 680-685.
[34] EUFIC (2013) Organic Food and Farming: Scientific Facts and Consumer Perceptions. EUFIC Review 10/2013.
[35] Smith-Spangler, C., Brandeau, M.L., Olkin, I. and Bravata, D.M. (2013) Are Organic Foods Safer or Healthier? Annals of Internal Medicine, 158, 297-300.
[36] Addiscott, T.M., Whitmore, A.P. and Powlson, D.S. (1991) Farming, Fertilizers and the Environment. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
[37] Bosshard, C., Sorensen, P., Frossard, E., Dubois, D., Mader, P., Nanzer, S. and Oberson, A. (2009) Nitrogen Use Efficiency of Animal Manure and Mineral Fertiliser Applied to Long-Term Organic and Conventional Cropping Systems. Nutrient Cycling in Agroecosystems, 83, 271-287.
[38] Langmeier, M., Frossard, E., Kreuzer, M., Mader, P., Dubois, D. and Oberson, A. (2002) Nitrogen Fertilizer Value of Cattle Manure Applied on Soils Originating from Organic and Conventional Farming Systems. Agronomie, 22, 789800.
[39] Kotschi, J. (2013) A Soiled Reputation: Adverse Impacts of Mineral Fertilizers in Tropical Agriculture. Commissioned by World Wildlife Fund (Germany) to Heinrich Boll Stiftung, 58 p.
[40] Kahn, S.A., Mulvaney, R.L., Ellsworth, T.R. and Boast, C.W. (2007) The Myth of Nitrogen Fertilization for Soil Carbon Sequestration. Journal of Environmental Quality, 36, 1821-1832.
[41] Mulvaney, R.L., Khan, S.A. and Ellsworth, T.R. (2009) Synthetic Nitrogen Fertilizers Deplete Soil Nitrogen: A Global Dilemma for Sustainable Cereal Production. Journal of Environmental Quality, 38, 2295-2314.
[42] Reid, D.K. (2007) Comment on “The Myth of Nitrogen Fertilization for Soil Carbon Sequestration” by S.A. Kahn et al. in the Journal of Environmental Quality 36: 1821-1832. Journal of Environmental Quality, 37, 739-740.
[43] Powlson, D.S., Jenkinson, D.S., Johnston, A.E., Pouton, P.R., Glendining, M.J. and Goulding, K.W. (2010) Comments on “Synthetic Nitrogen Fertilizers Deplete Soil Nitrogen: A Global Dilemma for Sustainable Cereal Production,” by R.L. Mulvaney, S.A. Khan, and T.R. Ellsworth in the Journal of Environmental Quality 2009 38: 2295-2314. Journal of Environmental Quality, 39, 749-752.
[44] Russell, A.E., Cambardella, C.A., Laird, D.A., Jaynes, D.B. and Meek, D.W. (2009) Nitrogen Fertilizer Effects on Soil Carbon Balances in Midwestern U.S. Agricultural Systems. Ecological Applications, 19, 1102-1113.
[45] Sylvester-Bradley, R., Lord, E., Sparkes, D.L., Scott, R.K., Wiltshire, J.J.J. and Orson, J. (1999) An Analysis of the Potential of Precision Farming in Northern Europe. Soil Use and Management, 15, 1-8.
[46] Schroder, J.J., Neeteson, J.J., Oenema, O. and Struik, P.C. (2000) Does the Crop or the Soil Indicate How to Save Nitrogen in Maize Production? Field Crops Research, 62, 151-164.
[47] Olfs, H.W. (2009) Improved Precision of Arable Nitrogen Applications; Requirements, Technologies and Implementation. Proceedings 662, International Fertiliser Society, York, 36 p.
[48] D’Haene, K.D., Salomez, J., De Neve, S., De Waele, J. and Hofman, G. (2014) Environmental Performance of Nitrogen Fertiliser Limits Imposed by the EU Nitrates Directive. Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment, 192, 67-79.
[49] Schroder, J.J., Neeteson, J.J., Withagen, J.C.M. and Noij, I.G.A.M. (1998) Effects of N Application on Agronomic and Environmental Parameters in Silage Maize Production on Sandy Soils. Field Crops Research, 58, 55-67.

comments powered by Disqus

Copyright © 2020 by authors and Scientific Research Publishing Inc.

Creative Commons License

This work and the related PDF file are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.