Agriculture acts to maximise benefits of N but minimise waste
NFU Scotland has highlighted that nitrogen fertiliser is fundamental to food production and that responsible and efficient use on farm can benefit both the environment and the farmer’s bottom line.
The use of artificial fertiliser is key to both the quality and quantity of crops grown on Scottish farms. However, the amount of manufactured fertiliser bought has dropped to levels last seen in the 1970s as farmers look to better targeted and timely use of this expensive input. At the same time, scientific advances and best practice on farm is reducing the environmental impact.
Speaking from the Nitrogen and Global Change Conference in Edinburgh, following the launch of the European Nitrogen Assessment, NFU Scotland Vice President John Picken said:
“The use of synthetic nitrogen to grow crops remains fundamental to the farming industry’s ability to produce food. Both in the past, and in the future, nitrogen has a key place in feeding populations around the world and that is something that this report recognises.
“Farmers are also alive to the environmental impact that nitrogen use has and appreciate the need for timely and targeted applications of fertiliser. Optimising the uptake of nitrogen by plants is not only good for the environment but makes good business sense. Fertiliser is now a very expensive input and, with more efficient application, farmers have reduced the amount of nitrogen currently being used on farm to levels last seen in the 1970’s.
“New varieties of grass and cereals are also more efficient in their uptake and use of nitrogen and there is a role for science going forward to ensure we have the knowledge that can best exploit both plant genetic development and fertiliser requirement to its fullest potential.
“Farming methods have also changed to reflect the more responsible attitude towards fertiliser spreading on farm. The use of buffer strips, water course protection, properly calibrated fertiliser spreaders and so on are good examples the kind of best practice regularly found on all farms. Clovers and other legumes are also increasingly incorporated into grassland and cropping systems reducing the reliance on artificial nitrogen inputs.
“Of course, there are huge areas of Scotland’s hills and uplands that never see a fertiliser spreader yet provide the necessary grazing for many of the cattle and sheep that are extensively reared in Scotland. Those livestock are managing our habitats and carbon-rich soils and producing food in an inherently sustainable fashion.
“A broad brush policy approach to nitrogen might make some good headlines, but Scotland provides ample proof that issues around the environment and climate change are complex and often require greater insight than simplistic solutions. Nitrogen usage is only part of a wider picture that has seen overall emissions from agriculture in Scotland decrease by 23 percent in the past 30 years.
“There are still opportunities for more efficient nitrogen use on farm, particularly around the storage and spreading of the nitrogen found organically in slurry and farm yard manure. At the same time, scientific advances and research and development will enable farmers to produce more while impacting less. Scottish farming may have more to do in this area, but it is taking its responsibilities seriously.”