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Nitrogen Oxides Becoming a Big Worry

While climate change and carbon sequestration are on the minds of many no-tillers, other greenhouse gases may cause even more crop damage.

Even though nitrogen oxides are much less abundant in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide, they have a potential for crop damage that is 300 times greater than carbon dioxide.

Nitrogen Oxide Concerns

By cutting nitrogen oxide emissions in half, Stanford University researchers say China’s crop yields could be increased by 25% and by 10% throughout the rest of the world. 

Commonly found in car exhaust and industrial plants, nitrogen oxide gases damage crop cells and increase ozone levels. This leads to reduced crop yields and scatters valuable sunlight away from crops.

Actions to reduce nitrous oxide levels are needed to slow climate change and improve air quality for human health, says Jennifer Burney of the University of California, San Diego. Benefits for agriculture could be substantial enough to ease the challenge of feeding the world’s growing population.

Fertilizer Changes Needed

Researchers at the University of Illinois and the University of Minnesota found nitrous oxide emissions during the non-growing season often make up 90% of yearly emissions. However, the use of no-till, cover crops, improved fertilizer application timing and nitrification inhibitors can reduce emission levels during non-growing seasons. 

The amount of moisture and oxygen in the soil along with the amount of snow on the ground impact how much and quickly microbes metabolize nitrogen and release gaseous nitrogen into the atmosphere.

Intensive freezing caused by decreased air temperature, intensified…

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Frank Lessiter

Frank Lessiter has served as editor of No-Till Farmer since the publication was launched in November of 1972. Raised on a six-generation Michigan Centennial Farm, he has spent his entire career in agricultural journalism. Lessiter is a dairy science graduate from Michigan State University.

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