Is nitrogen the new carbon?

September 21, 2009

In looking forward to the next Green Revolution, researchers have been carefully examining the role of nitrogen fixation in delivering successful crops around the globe.

For too long, of the soil has involved a dependence upon fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides that are petroleum-based, thus tying the agricultural industry to the availability and market price of fossil fuels. Many researchers agree that the next generations of technologies should emphasize clean and renewable sources to maintain the sustainability of agricultural development.

A new book, Nitrogen Fixation in Crop Production, is a resource for the science, application, and politics of the use of nitrogen-fixing crop plants across the globe and in various environments. From the microscopic to the global scale, the book contains a wide range of approaches to the role of nitrogen fixation. The book is published by the American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America, and Soil Science Society of America.

Nitrogen Fixation in Crop Production strongly emphasizes the economics of implementing advanced technologies in the process of nitrogen fixation. The goal of these technologies is the growth of agricultural yields worldwide, creating a system in which regions that typically struggle with their own agricultural sustenance would be able to become more self-sufficient. Nitrogen fixation is widely recognized as a method of achieving these gains, making the book a very timely commodity. For example, the United Nations Millennium Project emphasizes the nitrogen fixation strategy for its sub-Saharan Africa villages.

"Biological nitrogen fixation is an important economic issue for the global economy, as it represents the potential to reduce manufactured fertilizer nitrogen use in certain cropping systems. The economic and societal benefits of biological nitrogen fixation, especially where soil nitrogen supplies and funds for purchased inputs are limiting, are addressed in this book, as is the potential for mitigation of greenhouse gases," writes American Society of Agronomy President Marcus M. Alley of Virginia Tech in the foreword.

The book was edited by David W. Emerich, University of Missouri and Hari Krishnan, U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service, Columbia, MO.

Source: American Society of Agronomy

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1 / 5 (1) Sep 21, 2009
These efforts always worry me. Ultimately, these techniques will allow us to further overpopulate the earth, just as the Green Revolution did. I worry that we're just creating a larger bubble that will ultimately have to crash, and crash hard.

Is there any way we could at least tie these programs to family planning?
5 / 5 (1) Sep 21, 2009
Right now, farmers are using seed that has been genetically modified for drought resistance and herbicide resistance to reduce the quantities of water needed to raise a crop (fields are sprayed with high doses of atrazine to kill weeds to prevent the weeds from sucking up precious water). Unfortunately, the weeds are evolving resistance to the atrazine on their own. None of this is sustainable, including the use of cultivation agriculture.

Our only hope is to switch to no-till. But instead of GMO seed, we need a GMO cover crop-- a grass or legume that will put down deep roots quickly during a brief Spring growing season, fix nitrogen from the air, produce no seeds or runners, and then go dormant. This will crowd out the weeds without excessive use of herbicide, reduce groundwater useage, facilitate deep water penetration (along the cover-crop root paths), and provide an excellent medium into which we can plant our seed crops.

Less diesel, fertilizer, herbicide. Win, win, win.
not rated yet Sep 22, 2009
These efforts always worry me. Ultimately, these techniques will allow us to further overpopulate the earth, just as the Green Revolution did. I worry that we're just creating a larger bubble that will ultimately have to crash, and crash hard.

The "Green Revolution" didn't allow higher population. Agricultural advances did. The Green Revolution was another ecology fad that had no significant effect on anything but the enrichment of "natural foods" vendors.

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