More than a quarter of farmers in the UK and Republic of Ireland have yet to be convinced that improved nitrogen management could be important in reducing farming’s impact on climate change.

That’s the finding of a recent poll conducted by Map of Ag’s National Farm Research Unit in the run-up to the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26), which takes place in Glasgow later this month.

The agri-food industry has come under increasing scrutiny for its impact on climate change and organisations have started to set targets to reduce greenhouse gases (GHGs) and become 'net zero', some as early as 2030.

N management

Map of Ag has said that much has been made of opportunities from carbon sequestration and carbon credits, but argues that these have yet to secure a stable return on investment for the farmer.

The group adds that nitrogen (N) however, presents a "significant and often overlooked opportunity" to reduce inputs, emissions and improve soils, while saving costs for the farmer.

But how well does the industry know this?

The National Farm Research Unit polled 2,395 farmers across the UK and the Republic of Ireland (RoI).

When their responses were weighted against an industry model (Farm Structures Model), the findings suggested some 165,000 farmers believed that N management is an important factor in the reduction of on-farm emissions.

N management understanding by region

Regions showing a greater understanding of its importance were the south east and Wales, both at 81%.

By sector, dairy showed a greater understanding (74%), and across all sectors it was the larger-scale enterprises which were more engaged with the idea of improved N management to reduce farming’s impact on climate change.

But of the farmers polled, 12% were unsure of the importance of nitrogen management and 15% were indifferent or thought it was not important, representing over 61,000 farmers across the UK and RoI.

Map of Ag has been working on a collaborative project with European Food and Farming Partnerships and Kellogg’s Origins to measure, manage and mitigate nitrogen usage for tillage crops.

Hugh Martineau, head of sustainability at Map of Ag, explains: “Nitrous oxide occupies the largest share of greenhouse gas emissions for arable production, generally 70-80%/unit.

By tackling nitrogen we can lower the emissions impact, as well as tackling the environmental impacts on water and air quality, biodiversity and nitrogen deposition, which disrupts sensitive habitats.

“With our Kellogg’s origins grower group, we have been using sensors to monitor nitrogen requirements across a group of Origins farmers, and we discovered in certain circumstances, application rates could be cut by as much as 25% while achieving the same crop yield," he added.

Map of Ag hopes that by showcasing initiatives like this, it will increase awareness and highlight the need for further incentives which are needed to reduce barriers and engage farmers with methods and tools to manage their nitrogen-use efficiency.

The group said that access to good data will be crucial to effect the much-needed changes to practice.

What is Map of Ag?

Map of Ag was founded by New Zealand (NZ) farmer, Forbes Elworthy, as a spin-out from his agri portfolio investment business, to meet a growing demand for data-driven insights into farm performance.

Incorporated in 2015, it has since acquired a number of businesses (Precision Prospecting in 2016, The Evidence Group and Precision Decisions both in 2018, and Rezare Systems in 2020) and employs approximately 120 people across the UK and NZ.

Its data platform connects farm and agri-food sector data using a highly trusted permissioned and data management engine.