Skip to main content
ARS Home » Plains Area » Fort Collins, Colorado » Center for Agricultural Resources Research » Soil Management and Sugarbeet Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #367128

Research Project: Management Practices for Long Term Productivity of Great Plains Agriculture

Location: Soil Management and Sugarbeet Research

Title: Nitrogen (nutrient) trading tool

item Delgado, Jorge

Submitted to: International Soil and Water Conservation Research
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 1/8/2020
Publication Date: 7/29/2020
Citation: Delgado, J.A. 2020. Nitrogen (nutrient) trading tool. International Soil and Water Conservation Research.

Interpretive Summary: There are new tools such as the Nitrogen Trading Tool (NTT) that could be used to quickly assess how best management practices can reduce the losses of reactive nitrogen via several pathways, including nitrate leaching and direct and indirect nitrous oxide emissions. The first NTT was developed by ARS in cooperation with NRCS. The concept and capabilities of the original nitrogen trading tool were expanded in the nutrient trading tool, which can assess the effects of management practices on reductions of nitrogen and phosphorus losses and reductions in erosion. Additionally, the new COMET-VR model can also assess the effects of conservation practices on reductions of greenhouse gas emissions and assess carbon sequestration in farms. There is potential to use the NTT and COMET-VR tools, which are both robust and have a strong scientific background, across the USA and internationally. Both the NTT and COMET-VR are currently being used by USDA as tools to assess the effects of conservation practices on potential reductions in greenhouse gases and protection of water quality. The concept of the NTT and tools such as COMET-VR and the Nutrient Tracking Tool will help nutrient managers, conservation practitioners, farmers and other users quickly identify conservation practices that maximize nitrogen use efficiency while reducing nitrogen losses to the environment, providing an opportunity to trade the saved nitrogen in water and air (carbon) markets and contributing to conservation of the biosphere.

Technical Abstract: Nitrogen inputs were a key component of the green revolution, which helped feed the world during the 20th century. Nonetheless, when nitrogen is applied at rates that are higher than recommended, the excess nitrogen increases the availability, mobility and losses of reactive nitrogen to the environment. There is an extensive body of literature that has reported on reactive nitrogen losses from agricultural systems across regions of the world, losses that are contributing to negative environmental impacts such as hypoxic zones, algae blooms, emissions of greenhouse gases that contribute to a changing climate, negative impacts to groundwater quality, and several other environmental impacts. Reactive nitrogen losses to the environment have been reported to generate negative economic impacts such as the 1.7 billion dollars it costs to remove nitrate from agricultural sources to have safe drinking water and the potential negative impacts on human health. A great challenge that humanity faces in the 21st century is how to achieve food security for the additional 2.5 billion people that are expected to join this planet in the coming decades. Similarly to nitrogen’s key role in feeding a growing world population during the 20th century, nitrogen inputs to maximize agricultural productivity will also be key in 21st century efforts to achieve food security. Humanity needs to learn from the errors of the 20th century that contributed to massive losses of nitrogen across different regions of the world, and improve management of nitrogen. However, management will be even more challenging in the 21st century than the 20th since humanity will be confronting a changing climate and the occurrence of more frequent extreme events, floods and droughts. One of the new management approaches that will provide a new alternative to farmers, conservationists, and nutrient managers, is the use of management practices to increase nitrogen use efficiencies at the field level and reduce transport of nitrogen and other nutrients to the environment from the edge of the farm. Tools like the Nitrogen Trading Tool (NTT) will be used to assess nitrogen (nutrient) management to increase use efficiencies and reductions of losses to the environment, and the use of these ecotechnologies will contribute to the trading of these savings in ecosystem marketplaces, contributing to additional income to farmers and ranchers and global sustainability during the 21st century.