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Concept: Fertilizer


Despite broad interest in using payment for ecosystem services to promote changes in the use of natural capital, there are few expost assessments of impacts of payment for ecosystem services programs on ecosystem service provision, program cost, and changes in livelihoods resulting from program participation. In this paper, we evaluate the Paddy Land-to-Dry Land (PLDL) program in Beijing, China, and associated changes in service providers' livelihood activities. The PLDL is a land use conversion program that aims to protect water quality and quantity for the only surface water reservoir that serves Beijing, China’s capital city with nearly 20 million residents. Our analysis integrates hydrologic data with household survey data and shows that the PLDL generates benefits of improved water quantity and quality that exceed the costs of reduced agricultural output. The PLDL has an overall benefit-cost ratio of 1.5, and both downstream beneficiaries and upstream providers gain from the program. Household data show that changes in livelihood activities may offset some of the desired effects of the program through increased expenditures on agricultural fertilizers. Overall, however, reductions in fertilizer leaching from land use change dominate so that the program still has a positive net impact on water quality. This program is a successful example of water users paying upstream landholders to improve water quantity and quality through land use change. Program evaluation also highlights the importance of considering behavioral changes by program participants.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Evaluation, Water, Fertilizer, Ecology, Economics, Hydrology, Cost


This study analyzes the influence of various fertilizer management practices on crop yield and soil organic carbon (SOC) based on the long-term field observations and modelling. Data covering 11 years from 8 long-term field trials were included, representing a range of typical soil, climate, and agro-ecosystems in China. The process-based model EPIC (Environmental Policy Integrated Climate model) was used to simulate the response of crop yield and SOC to various fertilization regimes. The results showed that the yield and SOC under additional manure application treatment were the highest while the yield under control treatment was the lowest (30%-50% of NPK yield) at all sites. The SOC in northern sites appeared more dynamic than that in southern sites. The variance partitioning analysis (VPA) showed more variance of crop yield could be explained by the fertilization factor (42%), including synthetic nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), potassium (K) fertilizers, and fertilizer NPK combined with manure. The interactive influence of soil (total N, P, K, and available N, P, K) and climate factors (mean annual temperature and precipitation) determine the largest part of the SOC variance (32%). EPIC performs well in simulating both the dynamics of crop yield (NRMSE = 32% and 31% for yield calibration and validation) and SOC (NRMSE = 13% and 19% for SOC calibration and validation) under diverse fertilization practices in China. EPIC can assist in predicting the impacts of different fertilization regimes on crop growth and soil carbon dynamics, and contribute to the optimization of fertilizer management for different areas in China.

Concepts: Fertilizer, Soil, Nitrogen, Climate change, Potassium, Phosphorus, Guano, Manure


Europe’s agriculture is highly specialized, dependent on external inputs and responsible for negative environmental impacts. Legume crops are grown on less than 2% of the arable land and more than 70% of the demand for protein feed supplement is imported from overseas. The integration of legumes into cropping systems has the potential to contribute to the transition to a more resource-efficient agriculture and reduce the current protein deficit. Legume crops influence the production of other crops in the rotation making it difficult to evaluate the overall agronomic effects of legumes in cropping systems. A novel assessment framework was developed and applied in five case study regions across Europe with the objective of evaluating trade-offs between economic and environmental effects of integrating legumes into cropping systems. Legumes resulted in positive and negative impacts when integrated into various cropping systems across the case studies. On average, cropping systems with legumes reduced nitrous oxide emissions by 18 and 33% and N fertilizer use by 24 and 38% in arable and forage systems, respectively, compared to systems without legumes. Nitrate leaching was similar with and without legumes in arable systems and reduced by 22% in forage systems. However, grain legumes reduced gross margins in 3 of 5 regions. Forage legumes increased gross margins in 3 of 3 regions. Among the cropping systems with legumes, systems could be identified that had both relatively high economic returns and positive environmental impacts. Thus, increasing the cultivation of legumes could lead to economic competitive cropping systems and positive environmental impacts, but achieving this aim requires the development of novel management strategies informed by the involvement of advisors and farmers.

Concepts: Agriculture, Fertilizer, Nitrogen, Case study, Irrigation, Legume, Cultivation, Arable land


Freshwaters in the Athabasca Oil Sands Region (AOSR) are vulnerable to the atmospheric emissions and land disturbances caused by the local oil sands industry; however, they are also affected by climate change. Recent observations of increases in aquatic primary production near the main development area have prompted questions about the principal drivers of these limnological changes. Is the enhanced primary production due to deposition of nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus) from local industry or from recent climatic changes? Here, we use downcore, spectrally-inferred chlorophyll-a (VRS-chla) profiles (including diagenetic products) from 23 limnologically-diverse lakes with undisturbed catchments to characterize the pattern of primary production increases in the AOSR. Our aim is to better understand the relative roles of the local oil sands industry versus climate change in driving aquatic primary production trends. Nutrient deposition maps, generated using geostatistical interpolations of spring-time snowpack measurements from a grid pattern across the AOSR, demonstrate patterns of elevated total phosphorus, total nitrogen, and bioavailable nitrogen deposition around the main area of industrial activity. However, this pattern is not observed for bioavailable phosphorus. Our paleolimnological findings demonstrate consistently greater VRS-chla concentrations compared to pre-oil sands development levels, regardless of morphological and limnological characteristics, landscape position, bioavailable nutrient deposition, and dibenzothiophene (DBT)-inferred industrial impacts. Furthermore, breakpoint analyses on VRS-chla concentrations across a gradient of DBT-inferred industrial impact show limited evidence of a contemporaneous change among lakes. Despite the contribution of bioavailable nitrogen to the landscape from industrial activities, we find no consistency in the spatial pattern and timing of VRS-chla shifts with an industrial fertilizing signal. Instead, significant positive correlations were observed between VRS-chla and annual and seasonal temperatures. Our findings suggest warmer air temperatures and likely decreased ice covers are important drivers of enhanced aquatic primary production across the AOSR.

Concepts: Fertilizer, Eutrophication, Petroleum, Climate, Nutrient, Climate change, Alberta, Athabasca Oil Sands


Low-input agricultural systems aim at reducing the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides in order to improve sustainable production and ecosystem health. Despite the integral role of the soil microbiome in agricultural production, we still have a limited understanding of the complex response of microbial diversity to organic and conventional farming. Here we report on the structural response of the soil microbiome to more than two decades of different agricultural management in a long-term field experiment using a high-throughput pyrosequencing approach of bacterial and fungal ribosomal markers. Organic farming increased richness, decreased evenness, reduced dispersion and shifted the structure of the soil microbiota when compared with conventionally managed soils under exclusively mineral fertilization. This effect was largely attributed to the use and quality of organic fertilizers, as differences became smaller when conventionally managed soils under an integrated fertilization scheme were examined. The impact of the plant protection regime, characterized by moderate and targeted application of pesticides, was of subordinate importance. Systems not receiving manure harboured a dispersed and functionally versatile community characterized by presumably oligotrophic organisms adapted to nutrient-limited environments. Systems receiving organic fertilizer were characterized by specific microbial guilds known to be involved in degradation of complex organic compounds such as manure and compost. The throughput and resolution of the sequencing approach permitted to detect specific structural shifts at the level of individual microbial taxa that harbours a novel potential for managing the soil environment by means of promoting beneficial and suppressing detrimental organisms.The ISME Journal advance online publication, 31 October 2014; doi:10.1038/ismej.2014.210.

Concepts: Agriculture, Fertilizer, Soil, Nitrogen, Organic farming, Compost, Manure, Green manure


Sustainably feeding a growing population is a grand challenge, and one that is particularly difficult in regions that are dominated by smallholder farming. Despite local successes, mobilizing vast smallholder communities with science- and evidence-based management practices to simultaneously address production and pollution problems has been infeasible. Here we report the outcome of concerted efforts in engaging millions of Chinese smallholder farmers to adopt enhanced management practices for greater yield and environmental performance. First, we conducted field trials across China’s major agroecological zones to develop locally applicable recommendations using a comprehensive decision-support program. Engaging farmers to adopt those recommendations involved the collaboration of a core network of 1,152 researchers with numerous extension agents and agribusiness personnel. From 2005 to 2015, about 20.9 million farmers in 452 counties adopted enhanced management practices in fields with a total of 37.7 million cumulative hectares over the years. Average yields (maize, rice and wheat) increased by 10.8-11.5%, generating a net grain output of 33 million tonnes (Mt). At the same time, application of nitrogen decreased by 14.7-18.1%, saving 1.2 Mt of nitrogen fertilizers. The increased grain output and decreased nitrogen fertilizer use were equivalent to US$12.2 billion. Estimated reactive nitrogen losses averaged 4.5-4.7 kg nitrogen per Megagram (Mg) with the intervention compared to 6.0-6.4 kg nitrogen per Mg without. Greenhouse gas emissions were 328 kg, 812 kg and 434 kg CO2equivalent per Mg of maize, rice and wheat produced, respectively, compared to 422 kg, 941 kg and 549 kg CO2equivalent per Mg without the intervention. On the basis of a large-scale survey (8.6 million farmer participants) and scenario analyses, we further demonstrate the potential impacts of implementing the enhanced management practices on China’s food security and sustainability outlook.

Concepts: Agriculture, Fertilizer, Nitrogen, Sustainability, Natural gas, Nitrous oxide, Rice, Greenhouse gas


Paenibacillus polymyxa is a plant-growth promoting rhizobacterium that could be exploited as an environmentally friendlier alternative to chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Various strains have been isolated that can benefit agriculture through antimicrobial activity, nitrogen fixation, phosphate solubilization, plant hormone production, or lignocellulose degradation. However, no single strain has yet been identified in which all of these advantageous traits have been confirmed.

Concepts: Ammonia, Fertilizer, Nitrogen, Nitrogen fixation, Uranium, Phosphorus, Ammonium nitrate, Manure


While slow release of chemicals has been widely applied for drug delivery, little work has been done on using this general nanotechnology-based principle for delivering nutrients to crops. In developing countries, the cost of fertilizers can be significant and is often the limiting factor for food supply. Thus, it is important to develop technologies that minimize the cost of fertilizers through efficient and targeted delivery. Urea is a rich source of nitrogen and therefore a commonly used fertilizer. We focus our work on the synthesis of environmentally benign nanoparticles carrying urea as the crop nutrient that can be released in a programmed manner for use as a nanofertilizer. In this study, the high solubility of urea molecules has been reduced by incorporating it into a matrix of hydroxyapatite nanoparticles. Hydroxyapatite nanoparticles have been selected due to their excellent biocompatibility while acting as a rich phosphorus source. In addition, the high surface area offered by nanoparticles allows binding of a large amount of urea molecules. The method reported here is simple and scalable, allowing the synthesis of a urea-modified hydroxyapatite nanohybrid as fertilizer having a ratio of urea to hydroxyapatite of 6:1 by weight. Specifically, a nanohybrid suspension was synthesized by in situ coating of hydroxyapatite with urea at the nanoscale. In addition to the stabilization imparted due to the high surface area to volume ratio of the nanoparticles, supplementary stabilization leading to high loading of urea was provided by flash drying the suspension to obtain a solid nanohybrid. This nanohybrid with a nitrogen weight of 40% provides a platform for its slow release. Its potential application in agriculture to maintain yield and reduce the amount of urea used is demonstrated.

Concepts: Agriculture, Ammonia, Fertilizer, Nutrient, Nitrogen, Nitrogen fixation, Urea, Phosphorus


Grasslands provide grass and fodder to sustain the growing need for ruminant meat and milk. Soil nutrients in grasslands are removed through withdrawal in these livestock products and through animal manure that originates from grasslands and is spread in croplands. This leads to loss of soil fertility, because globally most grasslands receive no mineral fertilizer. Here we show that phosphorus (P) inputs (mineral and organic) in global grasslands will have to increase more than fourfold in 2050 relative to 2005 to achieve an anticipated 80% increase in grass production (for milk and meat), while maintaining the soil P status. Combined with requirements for cropland, we estimate that mineral P fertilizer use must double by 2050 to sustain future crop and grassland production. Our findings point to the need to better understand the role of grasslands and their soil P status and their importance for global food security.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Agriculture, Fertilizer, Soil, Cattle, Pasture, Food security, Manure


There has been considerable international study on the etiology of rising mental disorders, such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), in human populations. As glyphosate is the most commonly used herbicide in the world, we sought to test the hypothesis that glyphosate use in agriculture may be a contributing environmental factor to the rise of ADHD in human populations. State estimates for glyphosate use and nitrogen fertilizer use were obtained from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). We queried the Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project net (HCUPNET) for state-level hospitalization discharge data in all patients for all-listed ADHD from 2007 to 2010. We used rural-urban continuum codes from the USDA-Economic Research Service when exploring the effect of urbanization on the relationship between herbicide use and ADHD. Least squares dummy variable (LSDV) method and within method using two-way fixed effects was used to elucidate the relationship between glyphosate use and all-listed ADHD hospital discharges. We show that a one kilogram increase in glyphosate use, in particular, in one year significantly positively predicts state-level all-listed ADHD discharges, expressed as a percent of total mental disorders, the following year (coefficient = 5.54E-08, p<.01). A study on the effect of urbanization on the relationship between glyphosate and ADHD indicates that the relationship is marginally significantly positive after multiple comparison correction only in urban U.S. counties (p<.025). Furthermore, total glyphosate use is strongly positively associated with total farm use of nitrogen fertilizers from 1992 to 2006 (p<.001). We present evidence from the biomedical research literature of a plausible link among glyphosate, nitrogen dysbiosis and ADHD. Glyphosate use is a significant predictor of state hospitalizations for all-listed ADHD hospital discharges, with the effect concentrated in urban U.S. counties. This effect is seen even after controlling for individual state characteristics, strong correlations over time, and other significant associations with ADHD in the literature. We draw upon the econometric results to propose unique mechanisms, borrowing principles from soil and atmospheric sciences, for how glyphosate-based herbicides may be contributing to the rise of ADHD in all populations.

Concepts: Hospital, Fertilizer, Educational psychology, Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, Hyperactivity, Mental disorder, Herbicide, Roundup