ADVANCES in fertiliser technology can play a valuable role in allowing farmers to cut their nitrous oxide emissions.
Charlie Walker, Incitec Pivot Fertilisers (IPF) vice president of agronomy and innovation, said the use of technology such as nitrification inhibitors could be used to minimise denitrification losses from urea and ammonium-based nitrogen fertilisers.
The advances will likely be a critical tool in Australian agriculture's push to lower its emissions.
Agricultural nitrous oxide emissions are in the spotlight globally at present.
The Netherlands recently introduced moves to cut agricultural animal numbers to help meet its European Union mandated emissions requirements.
In Canada, the Trudeau government has called for a 30 per cent decrease in agricultural nitrous oxide emissions.
Both moves have angered agricultural communities in their respective countries.
While the Canadian move is for a cut in nitrous oxide emissions, not nitrogen fertiliser applications, the Canadian ag sector have said they do not think it is possible to cut gas emissions without also cutting fertiliser application by the same amount.
Mr Walker said research showed that technology such as IPF's eNpower nitrification inhibitor could help lower the amount of fertiliser nitrogen lost through denitrification which contributes to emissions of the potent greenhouse gas, nitrous oxide.
"There is work out there and we think farmers will be able to demonstrably show a cut in gas emissions by switching to these type of more efficient products," Mr Walker said.
He said the industry was currently working with scientists to develop a methodology for submission to the clean energy regulator with a view to attracting carbon credits for farmers who commit to using nitrification inhibitors.
This methodology will draw on peer reviewed studies that have demonstrated reductions in emissions.
"Should the methodology be approved, farmers could then be eligible for a government carbon credits to potentially offset the additional cost of the inhibitor," he said.
"In some industries, particularly those with high nitrogen inputs like vegetables, dairy and irrigated crops, there may also be an opportunity to reduce nitrogen inputs where nitrification inhibitors are used - this may help further offset any additional costs."
While nitrous oxide emissions have been in the spotlight due to the greenhouse gas implications, volatilisation, the gaseous loss of ammonia from surface applied urea can also be costly for farmers.
Mr Walker said many of the losses of granular urea fertiliser in Australia occurred due to volatilisation where the fertiliser was not incorporated into the soil with rainfall soon after application.
In worst case scenarios up to 50 per cent of the nitrogen fertiliser applied can volatilise.
These losses can be significantly reduced by applying a urease inhibitor to urea such as IPF's Green Urea.
"This is something we've been working to stop as an industry for a long time, not just from the environmental stewardship angle but from a cost savings point of view."
He said nitrogen intensive ag sectors such as dairy had been leading the way but added there had also been some uptake of nitrogen efficiency technology in the horticulture and grains sector.
Mr Walker said the fertiliser sector continued to research new methods of cutting emissions.
"We've developed both nitrification and urease inhibitor technology already but there is further work going on to study how to get more effective uptake into the plant.
"In layman's terms this is basically about feeding the plant when it is hungry, if we can get fertiliser to be taken up as the plant needs it then we could see some fantastic improvements in terms of nitrogen efficiency, which in turn could lead to cutting in overall fertiliser application."