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Agriculture: Sustainable crop and animal production to help mitigate nitrous oxide emissions

C. S. Snyder, E. A. Davidson, P. Smith, R. T. Venterea
Current opinion in environmental sustainability 2014 v.9-10 pp. 46-54
animal manure management, animal production, animal products, climate, crop yield, cropping systems, emissions, farmers, global positioning systems, harvesting equipment, issues and policy, nitrogen, nitrogen fertilizers, nitrous oxide, nutrient management, nutrient use efficiency, pollution control, poultry, precision agriculture, private sector, risk, soil, sustainable agriculture, topography, waste reduction
Nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions from agriculture can be tackled by reducing demand for, and consumption of, N inputs via diet modification and waste reduction, and/or through technologies applied at the field level. Here we focus on the latter options. To advance opportunities for mitigating N2O emissions at the field level requires an understanding of the complexities among soil characteristics, cropping systems, nutrient management, climate, and farmer skills. Whether organic or inorganic, a small fraction of the nitrogen (N) applied to soils, deposited, or released within terrestrial and aquatic systems is subject to risks of loss to the atmosphere as N2O. Newer technologies and management capabilities include crop yield monitors on harvest equipment, field mapping, global positioning of fertilizer N applications, accessibility to more private-sector skilled technical advice, computerized nutrient management record-keeping, improved fertilizer N technologies, products and formulations, and better technologies and tools for livestock/ poultry feed and manure management. Providing these resources to more and more farmers globally should help to increase crop and soil recovery of applied N, greater crop yields, and reduced losses of N that contribute to direct and indirect N2O emissions. Rather than focus specifically on those emissions, the broader management and policy focus should be on improved N use efficiency and effectiveness; to result in lower N2O emissions per unit of crop and animal product, or per unit of land area. A clearer scientific understanding of specific processes that affect the episodic, pulsing nature of N2O emissions, will help to decrease reactive N losses from agricultural systems while maintaining crop and animal system sustainability and productivity.