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IFA awards prize for nitrogen emissions research

Published by , Editorial Assistant
World Fertilizer,

Canadian researcher Dr Claudia Wagner-Riddle has been awarded the 2020 IFA Norman Borlaug Award for her multidisciplinary research that has helped to improve fertilizer nitrogen use efficiency and reduce nitrous oxide (N2O) losses by up to 70% without sacrificing crop yields.

Dr Wagner-Riddle was among the first researchers to apply micrometeorological techniques to monitor and better understand year-round N2O emissions from cropping systems by using a tunable diode laser trace gas analyser. She also leads a large collaborative group of scientists at the University of Guelph, where she is currently a professor at the school of environmental sciences, in a new outdoor soil monitoring laboratory designed to mimic field conditions while also containing highly sophisticated monitoring equipment.

By measuring the timing and volume of N2O emissions from cropland throughout the year and comparing the impact of different combinations of source, rate, timing, and placement of nitrogen fertilizer, in line with 4R Nutrient Stewardship principles, Dr. Wagner-Riddle’s work has helped to paint a clearer picture of how and when nitrogen losses occur and what farmers can do to mitigate them.

Quantifying the impact of N2O emission reduction techniques has enabled Dr. Wagner-Riddle to recommend specific practices, such as using urease and nitrification inhibitors, and improvements in nitrogen placement and application timings, that when combined with other best management practices such as no-tillage and legume cover crops, can result in huge fertilizer and soil nitrogen loss reductions: 51% less loss by leaching, and 70% less loss as gaseous forms.

Dr Wagner-Riddle’s work has also been of great value for informing the responsible recycling of plant nutrients within livestock-based cropping systems. Her research on N2O and methane emissions during the composting of liquid swine manure, for example, found that aerated composting reduced emissions to as low as 30% of those from liquid manure storage.

“I am honoured to receive this award. Understanding and better managing N2O emissions are vital for mitigating agriculture’s contribution to climate change. My work has shown there is a lot of potential to further decrease emissions in cropping systems,” said Dr Wagner-Riddle.

The results of Dr Wagner-Riddle’s research have so far informed Canada’s national inventory of greenhouse gas emissions, and the Nitrous Oxide Emissions Reduction Protocol (NERP) approved by the Alberta provincial government for use in its agricultural carbon offsets programme, and have led to the recognition of nitrification inhibitors in the province of Ontario’s climate change action plan.

Patrick Heffer, IFA’s Interim Director General and Senior Director of Agriculture, said: “IFA is delighted to recognise a high-calibre scientist whose innovative research has identified the right plant nutrition tools and techniques to help farmers measurably contribute to GHG [greenhouse gas] emission reductions while sustainably increasing their yields.”

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