Climate change: Will nitrogen be the new carbon in ten years?

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From The Ag Journal (Candace Krebs):

“In 10 years, we won’t be talking about global warming, we’ll be talking about nitrogen,” Jay Ham, a meteorology and environmental expert in the soil and crop sciences department at Colorado State University said. “It’s a way bigger issue.” Everyone’s heard about minimizing their carbon footprint, sequestering carbon or trading carbon credits. But nitrogen, which converts into a particle capable of traveling long distances when it escapes into the atmosphere, is getting more attention in Colorado and around the country. During the Colorado Ag Classic, Ham explained that nitrogen is a greenhouse gas 300 times more efficient at trapping atmospheric radiation than carbon dioxide. It impairs visibility and interferes with plant and animal life. The level of nitrous oxide in the atmosphere has increased 20 percent over the last century…

Ham attributes half of agricultural nitrogen to concentrated animal feeding operations and another quarter of it to farm fertilizer. “In some crop and livestock systems, we’re removing 20 to 30 percent of the nitrogen we’re applying,” he said. “We can lose it to air or to water. So one thing we can do is to improve agricultural efficiency.” There are three main ways to keep nitrogen from escaping into the atmosphere, Ham said. They include reducing inputs, retaining more of the nitrogen in the finished product or storing it on-farm.

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