Listen: We can make agriculture more sustainable and more profitable by reducing nitrogen losses

In this Dean’s Research Seminar, Professor Deli Chen highlights the research findings of his team and the grand challenge of the unsustainable use of nitrogen in agriculture.

Professor Chen is an internationally recognised soil scientist working on the efficiency of nitrogen use in agricultural systems, and its impact on global food security and climate change.

Professor Rebecca Traub
Professor Rebecca Traub (left) receives the Bancroft-Mackerras Medal for Excellence from Professor Una Ryan, President of the Australian Society for Parasitology..

In this online seminar, "Reducing nitrogen losses for sustainable agriculture", he discussed the challenges of managing nitrogen in agriculture.

More than half of the world’s population is nourished by crops grown using sources of reactive nitrogen through applications of synthetic fertilisers. The global nitrogen fertiliser usage in 2015 consumed 5 per cent of the world’s energy supply to manufacture and cost farmers more than 150 billion.

However, more than half of the nitrogen applied in agriculture is lost to the environment. These losses result in ecosystem degradation, air and water pollution, biodiversity loss and negative impacts on human health, costing many times more than the cost of the fertilisers.

Nitrogen fertiliser usage in the Australian grains industry costs around $1.1 billion per year, but $500-600 million is lost from the unproductive and damaging escape of nitrogen to the environment. The use of nitrogen fertiliser also contributes to around 25 per cent of the total greenhouse gas emissions as N2O and excessive nutrient pollution of the Great Barrier Reef and other coastal waterways.

This event was part of the Faculty of Veterinary and Agricultural Sciences’ Dean’s Research Seminars.

The Dean’s Research Seminars aim to showcase the breadth, aims, importance and impact of research being undertaken across the Faculty to a non-specialist audience. They are open to all staff and students.

You can watch or listen to Professor Chen's online seminar below.

Professor Chen is a Redmond Barry Distinguished Professor and Discipline Leader in the Soils and Environment Research Group in the School of Agriculture and Food, China Director of the Faculty of Veterinary and Agricultural Sciences and Director of the Australian-China Joint Research Centre: Healthy Soils for Sustainable Food Production and Environmental Quality. He was recently announced as the Director of the new ARC Research Hub for Innovative Nitrogen Fertilisers and Inhibitors.

He leads an internationally well-recognised research team, investigating soil-plant nitrogen dynamics. He has authored over 300 peer-reviewed publications (including in Nature and PNAS). His work has been recognised through national and international awards.

These include the Kingenta Agricultural Science Award and the JA Prescott Medal for excellence and achievement in the field of soil science awarded by the Australian Society of Soil Science. He is a Fellow of the American Society of Agronomy, the Soil Science Society of America, and Soil Science Australia.

Banner image: Terrace farming in Yunnan, China. Photo: Jialiang Gao, Wikimedia Commons.