Nitrogen-based fertilizers spur greenhouse gas emissions by stimulating microbes in the soil to produce more nitrous oxide.

Nitrous oxide is the third most harmful greenhouse gas, behind only carbon dioxide and methane and also destroys stratospheric ozone.

The production of nitrous oxide can be greatly reduced if the amount of fertilizer crops need is exactly the amount that is applied to farmers' fields.

"Simply put, when plant nitrogen needs are matched with the nitrogen that is supplied, fertilizer has substantially less effect on greenhouse gas emission," Robertson noted.

The research also showed that more nitrogen fertilizer could be added to under fertilized crops in sub-Saharan Africa."Because nitrous oxide emissions would not be accelerated by fertilizers until crop nitrogen needs are met, more nitrogen fertilizer can be added to under fertilized crops with little impact on emissions," Iurii Shcherbak, a researcher at Michigan State University, added.

Adding less nitrogen to over fertilized crops elsewhere, however, would deliver major reductions to greenhouse gas emissions in those regions.

The study appeared in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


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