A Research Road Map for Responsible Use of Agricultural Nitrogen

Udvardi, Michael
Below, Frederick E.
Castellano, Michael J.
Eagle, Alison J.
Giller, Ken E.
Ladha, Jagdish Kumar
Liu, Xuejun
Maaz, Tai McClellan
Nova-Franco, Barbara
Raghuram, Nandula
Robertson, G. Philip
Roy, Sonali
Saha, Malay
Schmidt, Susanne
Tegeder, Mechthild
York, Larry M.
Peters, John W.
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© 2021 Udvardi, Below, Castellano, Eagle, Giller, Ladha, Liu, Maaz, Nova-Franco, Raghuram, Robertson, Roy, Saha, Schmidt, Tegeder, York and Peters
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Nitrogen (N) is an essential but generally limiting nutrient for biological systems. Development of the Haber-Bosch industrial process for ammonia synthesis helped to relieve N limitation of agricultural production, fueling the Green Revolution and reducing hunger. However, the massive use of industrial N fertilizer has doubled the N moving through the global N cycle with dramatic environmental consequences that threaten planetary health. Thus, there is an urgent need to reduce losses of reactive N from agriculture, while ensuring sufficient N inputs for food security. Here we review current knowledge related to N use efficiency (NUE) in agriculture and identify research opportunities in the areas of agronomy, plant breeding, biological N fixation (BNF), soil N cycling, and modeling to achieve responsible, sustainable use of N in agriculture. Amongst these opportunities, improved agricultural practices that synchronize crop N demand with soil N availability are low-hanging fruit. Crop breeding that targets root and shoot physiological processes will likely increase N uptake and utilization of soil N, while breeding for BNF effectiveness in legumes will enhance overall system NUE. Likewise, engineering of novel N-fixing symbioses in non-legumes could reduce the need for chemical fertilizers in agroecosystems but is a much longer-term goal. The use of simulation modeling to conceptualize the complex, interwoven processes that affect agroecosystem NUE, along with multi-objective optimization, will also accelerate NUE gains.
This article is published as Udvardi M, Below FE, Castellano MJ, Eagle AJ, Giller KE, Ladha JK, Liu X, Maaz TM, Nova-Franco B, Raghuram N, Robertson GP, Roy S, Saha M, Schmidt S, Tegeder M, York LM and Peters JW (2021) A Research Road Map for Responsible Use of Agricultural Nitrogen. Front. Sustain. Food Syst. 5:660155. doi: 10.3389/fsufs.2021.660155. Posted with permission. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.
agronomy, biological nitrogen fixation, breeding, microbiome, nitrogen use efficiency, policy, soil health, roots