Agriculture and Farming Technology Updates

Smart Nitrogen Management is the key to successful Agriculture

Nitrogen is critical for crops growth and development


Agriculture sector is in a vicious circle as far as Nitrogen management is concerned. Nitrogen is present in the soil which helps plants and crops to grow. It is used specially in fertilisers and pesticides which help in plant growth and help get high yield. But Nitrogenous air pollutants are harmful to plants and crops. Dilemma is, agriculture is also a contributor in ammonia pollution. So, how farmers can balance use of nitrogen in agriculture? How farmers can practice nitrogen management wisely. 

Farmers plan their field, sow seeds and wait for the crops to bloom. This process is often repeated several times on the same field for same or different crops. There are so many important elements that are needed by crops during their growth and development phase. One of them and said to be the most important one is Nitrogen management. It is very essential for plant and soil health. Nitrogen management along with all other nutrients in the soil like Phosphorus, Potassium, Sulphur, etc. and micro nutrients need to be balanced for proper growth and development of crops and plants. Here we will discuss the nitrogen component in detail. 

Why plants need nitrogen? 

Farmers take care of their field and crops just like their children. They are well aware of the needs of the crops in the field. They practice various techniques to keep their crops healthy. One of them is to give apt amount of nitrogen to the plants. This is one of the hundreds of needs of a crop that the farmers have to take care of, but no doubt, it is among the most important ones. 

  1. Plants need nitrogen for growth and development. 
  2. Nitrogen is necessary because it is a component of chlorophyll which helps the plant achieve maximum growth. 
  3. It is a major element of the amino acids which are the building block of proteins. 
  4. Nitrogen encourages growth of leaves, leaf area-expansion production and stems and biomass-yield in plants. 
  5. Nitrogen gives beautiful dark green colour to the plant. 
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Spreading nitrogen fertiliser on winter wheat (Source : Flickr)

What are the major sources of nitrogen for plants and crops ? 

Farmers apply a lot of nitrogen either in the organic forms like compost, manure, etc. or inorganic from like synthetic fertilizers.  

  1. The nitrogen is present in the soil in the form of nitrates. It is the chief form of nitrogen taken up by the plants from the soil. It is released as the mineral decomposes. Nitrogen can be converted into useful nitrate compounds by bacteria, algae, and even lightning. 
  2. The vast storehouse of nitrogen in the atmosphere or molecular nitrogen is also good source for plants and crops. 
  3. Nitrogenous fertilizers (predominantly urea) and biofertilizers etc. are mixed with soil and the plants absorb nitrogen in both the form such as ammonium and nitrate ions. 
  4. Nitrogen fixation by Leguminous crops, such as soybeans, alfalfa and clovers can convert atmospheric nitrogen into plant-usable nitrogen. 
  5. Factories that produce nitrogen fertilizers add nitrogen to the soil when farmers and gardeners “feed” their crops. 
  6. Compost and manure are excellent nitrogen sources that also improve soil. Manure is faeces (sometimes urine) sourced as a byproduct from raising animals, while compost is organic matter that’s undergone a natural decomposition process.
  7. Livestock waste helps add valuable nitrogen to the plants and crops. Organic nitrogen and urea in the manure are converted to ammonia and ultimately to nitrate. 

How farmers can identify if the crops need more nitrogen? 

Yellowing of leaves and plant is a sign of nitrogen deficiency. Although there can be other reasons as well for yellowing of leaves, but lack of nitrogen nutrition is considered the primary one. As soon as the farmers observe this, they must start giving nitrogen  supplements to their crops. Sometime the crops improve with nutrition and at other times they might not recover. Then farmers need to consult the specialist and follow their instructions to manage crops growth and development. 

nitrogen management
Nitrogen deficiency in maize (Source : Flickr)

What harms nitrogen can cause for agriculture if not used wisely ? 

A few factors that can affect nitrogen nutrition in plants and crops is the quantity of nitrogen and the timing of application of nitrogen. This very important aspect of the topic is addressed by Dr. R S Bana, Scientist at Division of Agronomy in Indian Agricultural Research Institute. He warns that “Indiscriminate use of anything is always harmful. Insufficient nutrition of crops may result in hidden hunger and yield penalties. Likewise, excessive use of nitrogen may have negative effects on soil, groundwater, plants and atmosphere. Nitrate enrichment of aquifers (pollution of water bodies or ground water), volatization and leaching losses of fertilizers, lodging of crops, greater infestation of insect pests and diseases are major harmful effects of excessive nitrogen fertilization.” 

Some of the concerns are highlighted here 

  • Short-lived pollutants interrupt crop development and photosynthesis. 
  • Ground-level ozone leads to burning plant tissue and slowly depriving plants from sunlight and fresh air. 
  • A by-product of agricultural fertilization, nitrogen oxides form smog and acid rain that affect the air and soil on farms. 
  • Imbalance of nitrogen is directly limiting yields and ruining plant roots and leaves. 
  • Ammonia delivers its own impact on agriculture. It may add too many nutrients to the soil and causing excessive algae growth, ammonia drives biodiversity loss.
  • Substantial amounts of N are lost from the soil system through crop removal. 
  • Nitrogen can be lost from agricultural lands through soil erosion and runoff. 

Nitrogen management

How farmers can balance nitrogen management in Agriculture ? 

Dr. Bhupinder Singh, Principal Scientist at Division of Environment Science in ICAR-IARI explains that “Farmers can use leaf chart, soil testing metres, fertilisers recommendation metre are available to check the level of various nutrients in the soil. These recommendations can be followed to get the best results and yield. The leaf colour chart is a well recognised tool available. By looking at the colour of the leaf, farmers can make out if the plant is in need of nitrogen or not. Depending on this farmers can apply nitrogen in required quantity.”

Dr. R S Bana explains that “Region-wise, for each crop, based on the nitrogen content in the soils of that particular region, the recommended doses are fixed. Farmers are advised to apply all the fertilizers and manures as per the recommendations. For example – Recommended nitrogen dose for mung bean in Jaisalmer district will be different than for Jaipur zone. Krishi Vigyan Kendra guide farmers for the same. State departments of agriculture have a good network up to grassroot level in all the states. Likewise, ICAR institutes, Doordarshan Kendra, All India Radio, numerous magazines, etc. are source of information for the farmers.”

Also Read: These women farmers of Punjab run more than two thousand organic kitchen gardens, you can also start one

Balanced nutrition for plants and crops 

Although experts believe that application of nitrogen management alone is not a prescription to obtain high yields. Balanced use of plant nutrients through fertilisers, manures and amendments is the answer. Dr. Bhupinder Singh highlight –  “Issue is farmers in different areas don’t realise that the soil has been depleted over the years. And overemphasis on NPK (Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Potassium) has led to imbalance of other nutrients. Multiple nutrients are deficient in the soil. For example, 49% of the soil is deficient in sulphur. So, balanced nutrient availability in the soil is important. Nitrogen alone in the soil will not be able to sustain or ensure better crop growth.  So, we need multiple and balanced nutrient in the soil for plants and crops.”  

Just a bit of awareness can help farmers avoid the losses due to imbalance of nitrogen and other nutrients in their plants and crops. Refer to the solutions suggested by the experts here in this article and connect with the various centres suggested by our experts. This will help you plant the best crops at the best time. Also, use the nutrients wisely and get the best yield of your crop.

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