NITROGEN

Nitrogen is a fundamental nutrient in agriculture, serving critical roles in plant growth and crop production. It is essential for protein synthesis, chlorophyll formation, leaf development, and the transport of vital nutrients within plants. Nitrogen also enhances crop quality, resilience to stress, and seed/fruit production, ultimately influencing crop yield. 

Conventional agriculture grapples with various challenges related to nitrogen management, including nitrogen loss through leaching, denitrification, and volatilization, leading to inefficiency and environmental concerns. The risk of overapplying nitrogen fertilizers, and nutrient imbalances and crop health issues that result. Together with the economic burdens of a dependency on nitrogen-based synthetic fertilizers, and often regulatory compliance complexities.

Excessive use of synthetic nitrogen-based fertilizers has detrimental effects on soil health and the environment. 

While these fertilizers can be consumed by soil bacteria in moderate amounts, “a small amount of inorganic nitrogen (5 pounds per acre) can be used without damaging the soil microbiome” [1]. their overuse, especially in combination with pesticides, harms soil microbes. 

High synthetic nitrogen inputs deplete soil carbon, impair water retention, and increase nitrogen loss, leading to yield stagnation. Synthetic fertilizers bypass natural nutrient exchange, inhibiting soil aggregation, increasing irrigation needs, and fostering chemical dependency. In short, overuse of these fertilizers negatively impacts soil, water, and sustainability, highlighting the need for balanced nutrient management in agriculture.[]

The atmosphere is overwhelmingly rich in di-nitrogen (N2) at 78%, surpassing all other elements, including carbon. Regrettably, plants cannot utilize it due to the unbreakable triple bond between nitrogen molecules.

However, under natural conditions nitrogen finds its way into the soil in very generous quantities, thanks to nitrogen-fixing bacteria, which possess the enzymatic ability to break the sturdy bonds between nitrogen molecules. They transform this atmospheric nitrogen into protein, a vital nutrient for all living organisms. Soil-bound nitrogen is fixed through the collaborative efforts of rhizobia, which form symbiotic partnerships with leguminous plants, and non-symbiotic, free-living nitrogen-fixing microorganisms that thrive within soil aggregates.

In naturally fertile soils the main form of nitrogen is protein, found in organic matter and organisms. There are also other organic forms like amino acids, peptides, and urea that plants can easily absorb. Inorganic forms like NO2, NO3, and NH4 are also present as a result of microbial decomposition of the organic forms. 

Once nitrogen is captured from the air, it can be kept in the soil for a long time, even in soluble forms like NO3- or NH4+ ions, as long as the soil has the right type of biology.[]

[1] Green Cover Seed. (2021b, April 15). “The Nitrogen Solution” with Dr. Christine Jones (Part 3/4) [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dr0y_EEKO9o

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