The Bio-Zentrum is working on a new study finds
Organic Ag can contain nitrogen pollution
WASHINGTON, D.C. (April 9, 2020)– Nitrogen is part of the foundation of all life. However, too much of a particular form of nitrogen – reactive nitrogen – can threaten both humans and ecosystems and can create a cascade of environmental problems. A new study, carried out by University of Virginia researchers and co-authored by the Organic Center, shows that organic farming practices can help prevent the global buildup of reactive nitrogen and reduce the presence of one of the main culprits in climate change.
The study, published this month in Environmental Research Letters, confirms that the biggest difference between organic and conventional farming is that organic farming contributes to the formation of reactive nitrogen through the use of recycled nitrogen sources such as compost and other natural soil improvements. In all food groups, organic production releases around 50% less new reactive nitrogen into the environment.
"While most climate change media reports focus on carbon emissions, nitrogen is a critical – and often overlooked – part of the equation," says Dr. Jessica Shade, director of science programs at the Organic Center and co-author of the report.
Laughing gas (N2O) is a strong greenhouse gas with over 300 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide. Agriculture is the largest human source of N2O and contributes over two thirds to N2O emissions. The use of artificial fertilizers in conventional crops (especially corn and soybeans) is one of the main sources of N2O emissions in agriculture and also leads to nitrate leaching into the groundwater.
In addition to the published scientific study, the Organic Center has developed a report entitled "How Organic Can Help Mitigate Nitrogen Pollution: The Most Overlooked Cause of Climate Change … and Most Other Environmental Disasters," briefly describing and implementing the results become perspective with other research.
Bio helps keep nitrogen out of the global pool
Most nitrogen does not contribute to air or water pollution. However, when this nitrogen goes through a process called "fixation," it becomes reactive. Reactive nitrogen is used for the growth of plants and animals, but can also cause a variety of environmental problems. More and more benign nitrogen on Earth is being converted to reactive form, especially through the production of artificial fertilizers.
Nitrogen pollution contributes to smog, acid rain, forest death, "dead zones" on the coast, loss of biodiversity, depletion of the ozone layer in the stratosphere and climate change. These environmental problems are the result of too much reactive nitrogen due to increased man-made nitrogen fixation. Human nitrogen fixation has far exceeded natural nitrogen fixation and is currently seven times higher than reactive nitrogen inputs from natural sources.
artificial fertilizer is used in organic farming. Instead, all nitrogen in organic farms comes from recycled sources such as compost or a small amount of new reactive nitrogen from nitrogen-fixing bacteria in the roots of cover crops or other legumes. The same sources also form a complex and rich soil that can hold nitrogen longer than just letting it run off the field.
The results of this study show that organic substances not only contribute significantly less to the global pool of reactive nitrogen, but can also help bring nitrogen waste back into food production that could otherwise contribute to nitrogen pollution. By using manure and food waste as fertilizer, Bio prevents nitrogen losses from other agricultural systems from being released into the environment.
The study also points to the need for further research to improve our understanding of how organic farming can help reduce nitrogen loss to the environment. This includes the exam:
- Types of nitrogen inputs (new or recycled) used in crop production
- Nitrogen cycle in pasture-based systems, including the effects of rotating pastures, pasture best management practices and nitrogen fixation
- Nitrogen fixation rates in legumes and their role in the nitrogen cycle in legume growing systems
- Recycling rate data for crop residues under organic management and
- the fate of excess nitrogen from organic changes to quantify the percentage of nitrogen actually lost to the environment and nitrogen accumulated in the soil.
Bio and soil health: the big picture
Several studies have shown that organically cultivated soils support soil health better than conventionally cultivated soils. For example, organic soils have greater biological activity, greater soil stability, more biomass and more diversity than conventionally cultivated soils.
These soil health benefits also provide nitrogen pollution benefits. Organic soils have the potential to store more nitrogen instead of losing it through washing and draining. The higher content of organic matter enables healthy soil to absorb positively charged molecules of mineral nutrients such as nitrogen. This can reduce nitrogen pollution by keeping reactive nitrogen in the soil where it can be used by crops instead of being lost to the environment.
Organically cultivated soils tend to have a higher water retention capacity, porosity and aggregate stability than conventionally cultivated soils, which can lead to higher yields in extreme weather events such as droughts and floods. Conclusion: Organic farming can help farmers maintain constant yields in the face of extreme weather events related to climate change.
The mission of the organic center is to bring together credible, evidence-based science about the health and ecological benefits of organic food and agriculture and to communicate the results to the public. The center is an independent nonprofit research and education organization under 501 (c) (3) that operates under the auspices of the Organic Trade Association