Options for reducing farm ammonia emissions as levels rise

A recent article in The Guardianreported a 3.2% rise in ammonia emissions between 2015-2016, following a report published by Defra last month. Farming was cited as the industry responsible for most of the emissions, an understandable assertion, given the volume of the gas emanating from manure management but also the spreading of urea fertilisers.

The Defra report cited that agriculture accounted for 88% of total ammonia emissions in 2016 and that this is the main driver for the increase observed in the last three reported years, with emissions from agriculture increasing from 226 kilotonnes in 2013 to just under 253 kilotonnes in 2016.

Defra added that the Gothenburg Protocol, which sets emissions ceilings, requires the UK to reduce ammonia emissions by 8% by 2020.

BASF has a new product designed to directly tackle ammonia emissions from urea based fertilisers, whilst also improving plant nitrogen use efficiency and farm profitability. The product, Limus®, is a nitrogen stabiliser due to be launched to the market this year.

“As an industry, there are reasons that we need to consider ammonia, the first is that media attention could bring greater focus on farming to reduce its ammonia ‘footprint’ because of the impact it has on human health, and because ammonia can travel in our atmosphere and be deposited onto ecosystems where it can have an undesired effect, and lastly these atmospheric losses equate to nitrogen that is lost to the growing crop,” explains Andy Cawley from BASF.

Limus®, is described by the company as a complementary product for urea-based fertilisers such as UAN or granular urea to reduce ammonia emissions.

The technical story of how Limus® works is by inhibiting naturally occurring enzymes, called ureases, in the soil for a period of time. This allows the technology to be used to reduce the amount of ammonia losses, when soil conditions become warm and dry, he explains. “Limus® can be an insurance against ammonia losses. Trials have shown that reductions of ammonia from urea by an average of 70% and from UAN by 48%.   This can lead to crop yield boosts of 4-5% on average, depending on the crop and climatic conditions when Limus® is added to urea.

He adds that there are also benefits for the urea producers and blenders from using Limus® to address environmental challenges, particularly if the UK decides to follow Germany where it is to become compulsory to treat urea with a urease inhibitor, such as Limus®, or incorporate the urea within four hours of application to the field.

“Operationally urea blenders will also benefit from a very well formulated product that gives long term stability on urea granules once treated.”

“BASF’s innovation to help both farmers and the environment does not stop here, as we are also launching a product, called Vizura®, which is designed for application with cattle and pig slurries, as well as biogas digestates, to reduce nitrate leaching and the quantity of nitrous oxide getting into our atmosphere,” he explains.

He goes on to describe nitrous oxide is a “greenhouse gas that is almost 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide in contributing to global warming.”

In terms of the all-important crop performance, Mr Cawley adds that adding Vizura® to organic nutrient sources will help reduce nitrogen lost to the environment, and hence more is then available to the crop to help optimise yield and quality.

Vizura® works by holding nitrogen around the plant’s roots for a longer timescale, giving crops more chance to make use of the nitrogen from slurry or digestate. The product is a liquid which is added to the applicator or spreader when slurry or digestate is being applied.

“Our trials have shown that, on average, Vizura® can reduce nitrate losses by 35% and nitrous oxide emissions by 50%,” Mr Cawley suggests. “In terms of crop productivity, we’ve recorded average winter wheat yield increases of 5%, maize crop yield increases of 7% and maize starch gains of 12%.”

Environmentally, Vizura® also has strong credentials for the future, Mr Cawley notes: “it works by reducing the rate at which ammonium in the slurry or digestates is converted to nitrites, and in-turn, nitrates.  This is important because nitrates can be easily lost via leaching under certain conditions, such as heavy rainfall on lighter soils.  Looking wider at agriculture’s responsibilities to the environment, the potential to reduce the amount of nitrous oxide is important as a tool for addressing farming’s environmental credentials, given its potency as a greenhouse gas.”

BASF has been working with farmers over a number of years and has plans to release both products to the market this year.

The company sees Limus and Vizura® as two solutions to help farmers address their environmental profile, whilst optimising their yields and quality of their crops.

Limus® and Vizura® will start to become available in 2018.

 

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About The Author

Deputy editor of Agronomist and Arable Farmer as well as responsibility for the Agronomist and Arable Farmer and Farm Business websites. After 17 years milking cows on the family farm John started writing about agriculture in 1998 and has since written for a variety of publications and has developed a wide circle of contacts within the industry. When not working John is a season ticket holder at Stoke City and also of late has become a fitness freak, listing cycling, swimming and walking as his exercises of choice.