Evaluating the use of a web-based nitrogen cycle animation

Mark Imhof1, Gemma Heemskerk2 and Matthew Cox3

1 Agriculture Victoria, Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources. 32 Lincoln Square Nth, Parkville, Victoria 3053. mark.imhof@ecodev.vic.gov.au 

2 Agriculture Victoria, Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources. 32 Lincoln Square Nth, Parkville, Victoria 3053. gemma.heemskerk@ecodev.vic.gov.au 

3 Agriculture Victoria, Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources. 32 Lincoln Square Nth, Parkville, Victoria 3053. matthew.cox@ecodev.vic.gov.au 


An interactive animation of the nitrogen (N) cycle, within the context of a dairy agroecosystem, is available on the Victorian Resources Online website at: http://vro.agriculture.vic.gov.au/dpi/vro/vrosite.nsf/pages/soilhealth_nitrogen-cycle. It is one of a series of animations developed to capture and communicate soil knowledge and visually explain processes that occur in the soil and landscape. Animations were created from ‘storyboards’ (a series of hand-drawn sketches that outline all the events in the animation) developed with relevant soil scientists. This is an example of harnessing tacit knowledge of scientists, and providing context, to create an information product aimed at a broad range of users. Feedback to date has highlighted the value to users involved in agricultural extension and education. User profiling (based on IP address tracking) for a three-month period in 2013 indicated that the N cycle animation was the most extensively accessed of all animations on the website. The education and government sectors were significant user groups.

Do environmental scientists behave more environmentally friendly with regard to nitrogen pollution?

Adrian Leip1, Claudia Marques dos Santos Cordovil2 , Patrick Musinguzi3, Ina Körner4

1 European Commission, Joint Research Centre, Institute for Environment and Sustainability, Via Fermi 2749, TP 266/040

I-21027 ISPRA (VA), Italy, https://ec.europa.eu/jrc/en, adrian.leip@jrc.ec.europa.eu

2 Universidade de Lisboa, Instituto Superior de Agronomia, LEAF, Tapada da Ajuda, 1349-017 Lisboa, Portugal

3 Department of Agricultural Production, School of Agricultural Sciences, Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda

4 Hamburg University of Technology, Institute of Wastewater Management and Water Protection; Bioconversion and Emission Control Group, 21073 Hamburg, Germany


Nitrogen neutrality is a novel concept that aims at reducing the N-footprint caused by an entity and offsetting the residual emission of reactive nitrogen (Nr). This concept had been applied to three conferences (6th International Nitrogen Conference in 2013 in Kampala, Uganda; 18th Nitrogen Workshop in 2014 in Lisbon, Portugal; 15th Ramiran Conference in Hamburg, Germany) with different concepts and different degree of willingness of the participants to contribute to the voluntary compensation fee. This paper analyses the results of surveys made among the participants of the conferences to understand their view on low-impact conferences, N-footprints, and the N-neutrality concept.

The effect of ecosystem engineers on N cycling in an arid agroecosystem

Jessica G. Ernakovich1, Theodore A. Evans2, Ben Macdonald3, Mark Farrell4

1 CSIRO Agriculture & Food, PMB 2, Urrbrae, SA, 5064, http://people.csiro.au/E/J/Jessica-Ernakovich, jessica.ernakovich@csiro.au

2 School of Animal Biology, University of Western Australia, Perth, WA 6009, theo.evans@uwa.edu.au

3 CSIRO Agriculture & Food, Canberra, ACT, 2601, ben.macdonald@csiro.au

4 CSIRO Agriculture & Food, PMB 2, Urrbrae, SA, 5064, http://people.csiro.au/F/M/Mark-Farrell.aspx, mark.farrell@csiro.au


Ecosystem engineers—such as earthworms, termites and ants—are an important component of soil biodiversity and have been shown to contribute to aboveground productivity in native and managed ecosystems. Although their role in physical alteration of soils is appreciated, less is known about their effect on soil nutrient cycling, particularly in arid systems where termites and ants are the dominant ecosystem engineers. We explored the effect of termite reduction and tillage on soil nitrogen (N) biogeochemistry in soils from the northeasternmost wheat growing region in Western Australia. We assessed total soil N, potentially mineralizable N, and dissolved N pools, as well as soil N fluxes, such as proteolysis and N mineralization. We predicted that soils with native termite and ant populations would have greater N pools and rates of transformations between pools. While we found that many soil N pools were up to 2.5 times larger with native termite populations (e.g. dissolved organic N, NH4+), we found that the rate of transformations between pools was reduced relative to the reduced termite plots. While the reason behind this trend needs further exploration, the larger soil N pools in sites with native levels of ecosystem engineers implies that the conservation of soil macrofauna, particularly those that translocate N through the soil profile, may be important in the sustainable management of cropped lands.

Colorado State University Nitrogen Footprint Project

Jacob Kimiecik1, Jill Baron2

 1 Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO, 80523-1499 Jacob.Kimiecik@gmail.com

2 USGS, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO, 80523-1499 Jill.Baron@colostate.edu



Universities are a significant source of nitrogen that is released to the environment leading to environmental harm.  Colorado State University (CSU) is a large land grant institution working toward sustainability goals, and in 2014 added a goal of reducing its nitrogen (N) footprint. The CSU released N to the environment during the period August 2014-August 2015 from utilities, transportation, housing and dining, research animals, and research farms. The N footprint came to 1,066 metric tons N, of which only 28% was caused by on-campus activities. Most of CSU’s N footprint comes from Agricultural Experiment Stations and other research facilities around Colorado. Because of agricultural activity, CSU has a higher N-footprint by an order of magnitude than other universities that are part of the Nitrogen Footprint Network. On the university campus food production, utilities, and research animals are the largest sources of released N, and we describe an active program of education, incentives, and linking N reductions to greenhouse gas reductions.

Key Words

university, abatement, nitrogen footprint network, agricultural research

Nitrogen footprint updates in Japan: Significance of global trades and food culture

Hideaki Shibata1, Azusa Oita2

1 Field Science Center for Northern Biosphere, Hokkaido University, Kita-9, Nishi-9, Kita-ku, Sapporo, 060-0809, Japan, shiba@fsc.hokudai.ac.jp

2 Graduate School of Environment and Information Science, Yokohama National University, 79-7 Tokiwadai, Hodogaya, Yokohama 240-8501, Japan


Nitrogen (N) footprint is a powerful parameter to understand loss of reactive N (i.e. all forms of nitrogen except N2) to the environment by use of food, and energy in human’s daily life. The amount and composition of the N footprint differs among communities, countries and regions depending on various factors such as environment, economy, technological development and their culture. Japan is the top net importer of embodied reactive N emissions in food, feed, energy, and goods among countries, resulting in large loss of reactive N to the environment both inside and outside of Japan. Here we present updated information of N footprint in Japan by synthesizing the recent research findings. Virtual N factors (VNFs) of meat processed food in Japan are mostly higher than those in other countries while fish and seafood (especially wild-caught fish) is also important source of animal protein with generally lower VNFs than that of animal meat. It was suggested that shifting consumer preferences from meat- and dairy-intensive diets to diets with more fish and vegetables would have potential to reduce the N footprint in Japan. Increase of N use efficiency during production, processing, and consumption of food through technological improvements in agriculture and food industries with changes in personal dietary choices are needed to decrease loss of reactive N to the environment both in Japan and countries that provide food and feed to meet demand of Japan.

Evaluating the Taiwanese Nitrogen Footprint of Food Production

Ming-Chien Su1, Hideaki Shibata2, James N Galloway3, Allison M Leach4

1 Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Studies, National Dong Hwa University, No. 1, Sec.2, Da Hsueh Rd, Shoufeng, Hualien 97401, Taiwan , mcsu@mail.ndhu.edu.tw

2 Field Center for Northern Biosphere, Hokkaido University; Kita-9, Nishi-9, Kita-ku, Sapporo, Hokkaido 060-0809, Japan

3 Environmental Sciences Department, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA 22904, USA

4 Department of Natural Resources and the Environment, University of New Hampshire, Durham, New Hampshire 03824, USA


The emissions of reactive nitrogen (Nr) have been well known to cause many environmental problems and human health issues. Recently, the nitrogen (N) footprint indicator has been developed and used to specify the influence of the human use of reactive nitrogen on the environment. Taiwan’s Virtual Nitrogen Factors (VNFs; factors that describe average N losses during food production by food type) are similar to Japan’s VNFs (without accounting for trade) possibly due to comparable dietary and farming technologies. The average VNF of fruit is much higher than other vegetable products. Comparisons of the VNFs between Taiwan and Japan (without trade) follow the same pattern. The 10-year average total food production N footprint in Taiwan was 28 kg N/capita/yr. Furthermore, the N footprints for vegetable and animal products were 10 and 18 kg N/capita/yr, respectively. The results showed that the Taiwan N footprint is highly dependent on food production processes per unit of Nr consumed. We are focusing on domestic food production in Taiwan, but a next step for this study will be to also consider where the food consumed in Taiwan was produced (e.g., imports).

Nitrogen surplus: An environmental performance indicator for sustainable food supply chains

Eileen L. McLellan1, Ken Cassman2, Shai Sela3, Harold van Es3, Rebecca Marjerison3, Rod Venterea4, Christina Tonitto3 and Peter Woodbury3.

1 Environmental Defense Fund, 1875 Connecticut Avenue, Washington, D.C. 2009, www.edf.org, emclellan@edf.org

2 University of Nebraska, Plant Science Hall, Lincoln, NE 68583

3 Soil and Crop Sciences, Bradfield Hall, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853

4 USDA-ARS Soil and Water Management Research Unit, Borlaug Hall, 1991 Upper Buford Circle, St. Paul MN 55108


Nitrogen pollution and its negative impacts on human and environmental health are embedded in commodities traded domestically and internationally; we focus on grain because of its importance as a feedstock for food, feed and fuel. Food supply chain companies, in particular retailers and food processors, can play a catalytic role in reducing that burden through sustainable sourcing of grain and grain-derived products. We describe how such sourcing commitments might work to reduce N losses and how progress towards them can be tracked using a simple, robust and scalable indicator: N surplus. Using model simulations and empirical data on U.S. maize production, we show that N surplus, the difference between annual N inputs (fertilizer, manure, biological nitrogen fixation) and grain N outputs, is strongly related to N losses at field to regional scales. This analysis suggests that supply chain companies can set performance goals related to reductions in N surplus, which in turn could translate into large improvements in environmental outcomes. Recognizing that individual producers will need guidance and motivation on how to reduce N surplus, we present a conceptual model for using farmer-derived data in a social learning context to identify combinations of management practices that most effectively reduce N losses and improve crop yield or profit.

Nitrogen use efficiency (NUE) and tools for farmer engagement: a good reason for being imprecise

Ashley Evans1, Donna Lucas2, Dr Doris Blaesing2

1 RM Consulting Group, PO Box 396, Penguin, Tasmania, 7310, http://www.rmcg.com.au, ashleyh@rmcg.com.au

2 RM Consulting Group, PO Box 396, Penguin, Tasmania, 7310


A nitrogen use efficiency (NUE%) calculator was developed to engage with cropping farmers and advisors on reducing nitrogen (N) losses from crop production.

The calculator utilises the ‘partial nitrogen balance’ (or ‘output-input ratio’) method to calculate NUE% for an individual crop, a rotation or a whole farm. It also enables estimating the monetary value of potentially unused mineral and organic nitrogen fertiliser.

Experience has demonstrated that both, farmers and advisors, are keen to engage with the tool due to its ease of use and the value of the results in supporting decisions on farm and monitoring NUE% over time. Farmers and advisors have used the calculator for a variety of reasons, including for verification of current best management practices, a means to assess whether or not fertiliser application is efficient and as a way to benchmark groups of producers in a region or groups growing a specific crop.

Calculating NUE% is a successful way to engage with cropping farmers and advisors. The review of nitrogen inputs, removal and costs, based on easily available data, proved an effective starting point for moving to more in-depth discussions about overall nitrogen, soil and crop management. This supported good planning and decision-making for farmers. In our experience, attempting a review of management practices with complex information and using assumptions where actual farm data is not available can disengage people.

Towards an integrated tool to calculate institution carbon and nitrogen footprints

Allison M. Leach1, James N. Galloway2, Elizabeth Castner2, Jennifer Andrews1

1University of New Hampshire, 131 Main Street, 107 Nesmith Hall, Durham, NH, 03824 USA, Allison.Leach@unh.edu
2University of Virginia, PO Box 400123, Charlottesville, VA, 22904 USA


Hundreds of institutions have calculated, tracked, and managed their carbon footprint to help improve their sustainability. Although important, greenhouse gas emissions address just one aspect of sustainability. We propose an integrated carbon and nitrogen footprint tool to allow institutions to track and manage a broader picture of their environmental impacts. This integrated tool will bring together the Campus Carbon Calculator (a tool developed in 2001 at the University of New Hampshire that is used by colleges and universities across the United States) and the Nitrogen Footprint Tool (a new tool developed in 2009 at the University of Virginia that is completing a beta testing phase with 18 institutions). We will present the methodology for this integrated tool, case study results for five universities, and management scenario analyses for a variety of reduction strategies. Preliminary analyses have found strong comparisons between the carbon and nitrogen footprint in both the food and energy sectors. In addition, we found reductions to both footprints for a variety of management strategies. This analysis holds significance for all institutions, regardless of whether they have calculated their own footprint, because it will identify the most effective footprint management strategies across institutions that could then be used in sustainability planning.

<For the full paper, please contact Allison Leach at Allison.Leach@unh.edu>

Institutional barriers and opportunities for improving policy approaches to reducing excess reactive nitrogen from U.S. agriculture

Otto C. Doering III

Agricultural Economics Dept., Purdue University, 403 West State Street, West Lafayette, IN, USA, doering@purdue.edu


Agriculture in the U.S. is the major source of anthropogenic reactive nitrogen. The control and management of this nitrogen is a major challenge. The challenge is magnified by the nature of the nitrogen cascade; the ability of nitrogen to change form and move between land, air and water. This is only one of the factors making excess reactive nitrogen a wicked problem. The U.S. Environmental protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Agriculture are major players in dealing with reactive nitrogen and have different institutional histories, responsibilities, and structures. Yet, in order to effectively manage and control reactive nitrogen these institutions and their activities are going to have to encompass and mirror the nitrogen cascade. Institutions that internally have barriers between segments of the cascade will have to overcome them. Parts of the cascade that involve other institutions will have to be coordinated with those institutions. To accomplish this there has to be the coordination of functions carried out by the two primary agencies. This is made all the more difficult by the fact that EPA plays a regulatory role in contrast to the Department of Agriculture’s supportive sectoral role.