Letter to the Editor – Climate Change


Dear Editor

It’s not the fertilizer that causes GHG emissions it’s the nitrogen in it.

I picked up your paper while at the “NG Sustainability Fair”.  I read the article “ANALYSIS: Fertilizer-emissions won’t work, isn’t scientific and farmers don’t like it”.  The article has been written out of context. That is not the author’s fault, because it all started with Justin Trudeau, who made the statement recently: “We need to reduce fertilizer by 30% to reduce harmful emissions”.  Someone in NG pointed that statement out to me, saying: ”Obviously Justin doesn’t know anything about agriculture!” 

So, what is in this article that we need to know, even as a home-gardener?   We need to reduce Nitrogen Emissions by 30%.  So, if we apply N, which is Nitrogen (ammonium nitrate or potassium nitrate) in the form of ORGANIC or SYNTHETIC fertilizer, we need to reduce the N by 30%.  That means: even if you apply pig, cow, goat or chicken manure we need to analyze how much we spread on the fields to reduce nitrogen application. In general, we are allowed to spread 130 kg /ha, which is now reduced by 30% to 100 kg/ha.  In the Netherlands they introduced a law last week, which allows farmers to apply a maximum 30 kg of N/ha.

Nitrogen has a high Global Warming Potential (GWP).  CO2 has a GWP of 1; Nitrogen in the form of N2O has a GWP of 273. The higher the GWP to faster the earth warms up.  Even urban housing expansion contributes to nitrogen release (“Changes in land use driven by urbanization impact nitrogen cycling and the microbial community composition in soils”, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5345093/) But that’s another story.

Farmers can easily compensate their reduced nitrogen application by growing legumes in their crop rotation plan.  Actually, western farmers grow lots of legumes: soybeans, beans and pulse crop for which the western provinces are famous.  Each of those N-fixing crops will provide the farm soils with 60 kg of N/ha.  If farmers apply 30 kg of N/ha (as a synthetic or natural fertilizer) and grow a legume crop they are applying 90 kg of N/ha.   Farmers should not complain as they are looking into an economic windfall in the next few years. The Dutch food industry is looking for farmers in this country to grow soybeans, beans, pulse crops and other legumes for the plant-based meat industry in Europe. Actually, a Dutch delegation spent some time in this country looking for farmers to grow protein-based crops.  As these Dutch people were saying when they came here: “You got the land, we got the technology, let’s work together”. 

William J. Langenberg


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