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Comprehensive Study Uses Wind Tunnels to Provide Farmers with Innovative Nitrogen Management Options

Nitrogen is an essential nutrient required by all crops so Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) scientists are exploring innovative ways to make sure crops can access more applied nitrogen to help them grow and thrive. A comprehensive, multi-year AAFC project is using wind tunnel technology to better understand, predict and prevent nitrogen loss from soils and increase the amount available to crops.

Lead scientist, Dr. Craig Drury, of AAFC’s Greenhouse and Processing Crops Research Centre (GPCRC), is looking at two of the most common sources of applied nitrogen (urea granules and urea-ammonium nitrate), in combination with and without nitrogen inhibitors, and various methods of application (broadcasting, streaming and injection) to determine the best way to make nitrogen available and accessible to the crop. Dr. Drury will study the distribution and fate of applied nitrogen in the crops, soil and air under the nine combinations of source and method application.

“The wind tunnels enable us to compare different treatments while maintaining a consistent and average wind speed that is typical for the region. They also help to direct the path of wind so that we can take a sample of air before it goes over the soil surface that has received nitrogen fertilizer and after it passes over the soil surface,” explains Drury. “This is the ‘gold’ standard by which ammonia volatilization, or nitrogen loss, is measured at a plot scale.”

Nitrogen loss is not only detrimental to both the crop and environment but represents a major economic loss to the farmer. Providing innovative management options will not only improve nutrient use but will increase profitability of crop production.

“Nitrogen fertilizers account for over 70% of the fertilizer used in Canada,” explains Drury. “It is extremely important that we investigate and promote new strategies to decrease nitrogen losses from agricultural soils and increase the amount of nitrogen available to crops to provide food and fiber for a growing population.”

The second phase of this project will include identifying ideal timing and optimal rates of nitrogen application.

“The knowledge that is generated from this project will aid farmers and agri-businesses in their day-to-day decisions regarding nitrogen management. It will explain how, why and under what conditions options are effective,” notes Drury. “This information has the potential to change management practices at the farm level.”

One of the key goals of AAFC research is to enhance the environmental performance of the Canadian agricultural system while optimizing productivity, including the development of best management practices.

The GPCRC is part of AAFC’s national network of research centres. Located in Harrow, Ontario, the Centre develops and transfers new technologies for the production and protection of greenhouse and field crops and conducts research to improve the quality and sustainable use of Canadian soils; reduce greenhouse gas emissions; and prevent nutrient losses in soil from agricultural fields.

For more information:

Media Relations
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada
Ottawa, ON

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