Nitrogen stabilizers could be a major piece of the puzzle when it comes to improving fertilizer efficiency and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. With fertilizer prices skyrocketing and nitrous oxide emissions higher than ever, farmers are trying to find ways to reduce nitrogen loss on their fields.
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Supplementing our crops with nitrogen fertilizer is necessary to produce enough food to support our growing population. Unfortunately, applying nitrogen fertilizer has its risks— up to 50% can be lost through volatilization, leaching, runoff, and denitrification before plants have a chance to use it. This requires farmers to apply extra fertilizer to meet their yield goals. Nitrogen loss can also be harmful to the environment causing groundwater pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.
Reducing Nitrogen Loss
By reducing nitrogen loss in our fields, we can save on the amount of applied fertilizer while reducing agricultural emissions. Following the 4R nutrient stewardship principles can help improve the efficiency of fertilizer and mitigate the risk of nitrogen loss.
Enhanced Efficiency Fertilizers (EEF) provide another layer of protection against nitrogen loss. EEFs are fertilizers combined with an additive that either slows down the release of nutrients or inhibits chemical processes that cause nitrogen loss.
Slow-release EEFs are nitrogen fertilizers that gradually degrade until finally releasing nitrogen into the soil. However, these are difficult to control as they are subject to weather and soil conditions.
Controlled-release EEFs are fertilizer granules with a coating that slowly diffuses nitrogen over time. The speed of fertilizer release can be controlled based on the thickness and type of coating. Unfortunately, damaging the coating will significantly reduce its effectiveness and certain coatings can accumulate in the soil.
Urease inhibitors prevent the conversion of nitrogen fertilizer to ammonia gas which would be lost to the atmosphere. The most common chemical used to inhibit this process is NBPT (N-(n-Butyl) thiophosphoric triamide). Surface applied fertilizer has a greater chance of ammonia volatilization. NBPT extends the nitrogen fertilizer to ammonia conversion period from 7-8 days to 14-28 days giving the fertilizer more time to get mixed into the soil with rain or irrigation.
Nitrification inhibitors prevent the nitrogen conversions that lead to runoff, leaching, and greenhouse gas emissions.
DCD (Dicyandiamide) is a chemical that was introduced in the 1970s and is the most common nitrification inhibitor used in North America. Unfortunately, DCD is highly mobile in the soil, making it prone to leaching, and has been known to accumulate in plants and animals.
DMPP (3,4-Dimethylpyrazole phosphate) is a newer nitrification inhibitor to North America although it has been used in Europe for some time. DMPP has several advantages over DCD: it is not mobile in the soil and does not accumulate in organisms like DCD. DMPP can be applied in lower concentrations than DCD and has a longer soil activity.
|Effective for 25-59 days||Effective for 25-70 days|
|Mobile in the soil||Not mobile, remains where applied|
|Accumulates in organisms||No bioaccumulation|
|Powder form||Available in liquid or powder form|
At Active AgriScience we have developed and patented nitrogen stabilizer technology that safeguard against all forms of nitrogen loss. We have five products on the market today: Active STABILIZER, ARM U 18% NBPT, and ARM U 30% NBPT (patent number 2889430) which inhibit ammonia volatilization; ARM U 15% DMPP (patent pending) which inhibits nitrification; and Active STABILIZER PLUS (patent pending) which inhibits both volatilization and nitrification.
Research and Potential ROI
Third party research from the University of Manitoba has shown significant nitrogen savings on urea treated with Active AgriScience’s N stabilizers. According to the study, out of 10 different products and rates an average of 84.4% nitrogen was saved over a 14 day period compared to untreated urea. Treating urea may cost a farmer less than not treating it. This becomes more real with the prices of nitrogen fertilizer having more than doubled from 2021 to 2022.
Depending on a farmer’s goals, Active AgriScience nitrogen stabilizers give farmers a choice: achieving a higher yield using the same amount of urea or the same yield using less urea fertilizer.
Nitrogen Stabilizers ROI Calculator
Based on data from a Volatilization Study by the University of Manitoba. Nitrogen savings are calculated by comparing ammonia volatilization losses from untreated urea versus urea treated with Active AgriScience nitrogen stabilizers.
|ROI with Nitrogen Savings from Treated Urea|
|Value of Urea Saved
|1.2L/mt Active Stabilizer||0||$0.00||$0.00|
|1.2L/mt Active Stabilizer PLUS||0||$0.00||$0.00|
|2L/mt ARM U (18%NBPT)||0||$0.00||$0.00|
|1.5L/mt ARM U (30%NBPT)||0||$0.00||$0.00|
|ROI with Potential Yield from Saved Nitrogen|
|Treatment||Wheat ROI||Canola ROI||Corn ROI||Soybean ROI|
|1.2L/mt Active Stabilizer (12% NBPT)||$0.00||$0.00||$0.00||$0.00|
|1.2L/mt Active Stabilizer PLUS (12% NBPT, 2% DMPP)||$0.00||$0.00||$0.00||$0.00|
|2L/mt ARM U (18% NBPT)||$0.00||$0.00||$0.00||$0.00|
|1.5L/mt ARM U (30% NBPT)||$0.00||$0.00||$0.00||$0.00|
Nitrogen Stabilizers Comparison
ARM U 18% or 30% NBPT is best used in dry conditions because it delays urea’s conversion into ammonia gas giving it more time to get the moisture it needs to bind to the soil. ARM U 15% DMPP is more effective in warmer, wet conditions where nitrogen fertilizers are prone to runoff, leaching or denitrification. Three years of third party field studies show that ARM U 18% NBPT can reduce nitrogen loss between 60-80%.
With a lower NBPT and DMPP concentration, Active STABILIZER and Active STABILIZER PLUS are our more economical nitrogen stabilizers. Active STABILIZER contains NBPT for ammonia volatilization prevention while Active STABILIZER PLUS contains both NBPT and DMPP to inhibit ammonia volatilization and nitrification. Third party studies have shown these products still achieve significant nitrogen savings compared to products with a higher concentration of inhibitors. Active STABILIZER and Active STABILIZER PLUS also have a flexible application rate which allows growers to choose the ideal rate for their soil chemistry and their economy.
|ARM U 30% NBPT||ARM U 18% NBPT||ARM U 15% DMPP||Active STABILIZER||Active STABILIZER PLUS|
|30% NBPT||18% NBPT||No NBPT||12% NBPT||12% NBPT|
|No DMPP||No DMPP||15% DMPP||No DMPP||2% DMPP|
|1.2 – 1.5 L / tonne of urea||2 L / tonne of urea||0.6 L / tonne of urea||1.2 – 2.4 L / tonne of urea||1.2 – 2.4 L / tonne of urea|
|Inhibits ammonia volatilization||Inhibits ammonia volatilization||Inhibits nitrification||Inhibits ammonia volatilization||Inhibits ammonia volatilization and nitrification|
|For use in colder environments with low rainfall||For use in colder environments with low rainfall||For use in warmer environments with high moisture||For use in colder environments with low rainfall||For use in warmer environments with high moisture|
GHG Emissions from N Loss
An often overlooked concern with nitrogen loss are the greenhouse gas emissions caused by denitrification. After the energy sector, agriculture is the second largest greenhouse gas emitter. Most agricultural GHG emissions come from livestock (5.9% of global GHG emissions) in the form of methane and from applied nitrogen fertilizer (4.2% of global GHG emissions) in the form of nitrous oxide.
Nitrous oxide is a greenhouse gas nearly 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide and can live in the atmosphere for over 100 years. It also degrades the ozone layer, which shields us from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays.
Because of the noticeable effect nitrous oxide has on global warming, governments worldwide have started considering nitrogen fertilizer emissions in their climate action programs. The EU is already imposing fertilizer usage restrictions and it may not be long until Canada follows suit.
In 2021, the Government of Canada implemented the On Farm Climate Action Fund to directly support farmers in implementing practices that will reduce agricultural GHG emissions. On February 2022, $182.7 million was distributed between 12 recipient organizations as part of the effort to tackle climate change. The 3 main focuses of the program are nitrogen management, cover cropping, and rotational grazing practices.
Although it is still in the early stages, farmers can expect direct financial support to deploy practical climate solutions that also prevent nitrogen loss. Visit agriculture.canada.ca/en/agricultural-programs-and-services/agricultural-climate-solutions-farm-climate-action-fund-0 to determine which On Farm Climate Action Fund recipient organization you should apply to depending on your region.
Times are tough with the high demand for fertilizer, along with supply chain disruptions, making supplies low and expensive. With fertilizer costs on the rise, every farmer should have a nitrogen management strategy in place to avoid nitrogen loss and protect their investment. By altering farming practices to account for fertilizer efficiency and environmental impact, we can all benefit.