UK and Brazil join forces to improve agricultural nitrogen use efficiency

20 Jun 2016 15:14:54.610

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An international team of experts in soil, plant and environmental sciences have joined forces to help to reduce the use of synthetic Nitrogen fertilisers in Brazil and the UK. The aim is to improve the management of Nitrogen to increase yields across a range of soils and climatic landscapes.

The new interdisciplinary virtual centre brings together experts in Brazilian crops and climates, soil nitrogen sensors and X-ray imaging for plant roots and soil at the Hounsfield Facility at The University of Nottingham.

The NUCLEUS research team — Nitrogen Use effiCiency via an integrated SoiL-Plant systEms approach for the Uk & BraSil — is led by Sacha Mooney, Professor of Soil Physics in the School of Biosciences at The University of Nottingham. The research has received funding of £2.2m from the Newton Fund via the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) in the UK, and from research funding agencies from Sao Paulo State (FAPESP), Maranhao State (FAPEMA) and Goias State (FAPEG).

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Nitrogen is a key nutrient for crop production but most agricultural systems require routine, and in some areas, the significant addition of synthetic nitrogen fertilisers to generate high yields. Nitrogen use efficiency (NUE) is the term used to explain the difference between the amount of nitrogen used and the amount that goes to waste — escaping into atmosphere or finding its way into surface and ground-water courses.

Brazil is one of the ‘bread baskets’ of the world and a country where the use of synthetic Nitrogen fertilisers is widespread despite plentiful land, water and sunlight.

Similar to the UK, average nitrogen recovery (how much the plant actually uses) in Brazilian agriculture has been estimated to be around 70 per cent, however, enormous regional variation exists. For example, NUE is higher in intensively farmed and industrialised parts of the country but remains very low in former Amazonian areas where severe N-depletion occurs due to inappropriate shifting cultivation practices (e.g. fires, erosion)

How do we increase agricultural production in order to meet the demands of our rapidly expanding world population?

Professor Mooney, said: “Through an enhanced understanding of the plant and soil systems, NUCLEUS will contribute to understanding, developing and deploying new interventions, technologies and approaches for agronomic nitrogen use efficiency. These will be supported through exchanges and workshops making significant contributions to the economic development of both countries involved to meet the diverse needs of the farming communities.”

Professor Ciro Rosolem, an agronomist from Sao Paulo State University, said: “Nitrogen fertilizer application is a significant contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions. The less nitrogen that is lost to the environment, the better for the farmer and for the general population.”

The British partners are The University of Nottingham (including scientists from the Schools of Biosciences and Geography), the University of Aberdeen, Rothamsted Research, and Bangor University. Partners in Brazil include Sao Paulo State University, the University of Sao Paulo, the University of Western Sao Paulo, the Agronomic Institute of Campinas, Embrapa Rice and Beans, the Goiano Federal Institute, the Federal University of Goias, and Maranhao Federal University.

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Notes to editors: The University of Nottingham has 43,000 students and is ‘the nearest Britain has to a truly global university, with a “distinct” approach to internationalisation, which rests on those full-scale campuses in China and Malaysia, as well as a large presence in its home city.’ (Times Good University Guide 2016). It is also one of the most popular universities in the UK among graduate employers and was named University of the Year for Graduate Employment in the 2017 The Times and The Sunday Times Good University Guide. It is ranked in the world’s top 75 by the QS World University Rankings 2015/16, and 8th in the UK for research power according to the Research Excellence Framework 2014. It has been voted the world’s greenest campus for four years running, according to Greenmetrics Ranking of World Universities.

Impact: The Nottingham Campaign, its biggest-ever fundraising campaign, is delivering the University’s vision to change lives, tackle global issues and shape the future. More news…

Story credits

More information is available from Professor Sacha Mooney in the School of Biosciences, The University of Nottingham on +44 (0)115 951 6257,
Lindsay Brooke

Lindsay Brooke - Media Relations Manager

Email: Phone: +44 (0)115 951 5751 Location: University Park

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