Friday 24th September marks the final day of the 15th International Workshop on Plant Membrane Biology, and is a feature day for the Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics (ACPFG). In particular the day will highlight work at the Centre into the nitrogen use efficiency (NUE) of cereal
‘Given the environmental effects associated with production and usage of nitrogen fertilisers, and the suggestion that we may be approaching peak phosphorus, increased food production will require crops that use fertilisers more efficiently, that is, we need to increase the nutrient use efficiency of crops,’ said Dr Trevor Garnett, NUE researcher at ACPFG
Nutrient use efficiency researchers from around the world will meet on the Friday at the National Wine Centre to discuss their research and strategies for international collaboration to address this problem.
‘Currently the demand for food is close to the limits of what we can produce, but by 2050 it is suggested that we will need to increase food production by 60% according to a 2008 Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations report,’ he said.
Nitrogen (N) is one of the biggest input costs for farmers and the price is increasing because of the power used to industrially fix N from the atmosphere. Approximately 2 % of the world’s energy is used to produced N fertiliser; this causes a considerable greenhouse gas contribution.
‘Over 100 million tonnes of Nitrogen fertiliser is applied to crops each year and 60% of this on cereals,’ said Dr Garnett. ‘Given the costs and environmental effects associated with production and usage of nitrogen fertilisers, plants with increased nitrogen use efficiency are of great importance to future food security.’
Nitrogen is the fertiliser that plants require the most, but only 40-50% of the applied fertiliser is taken up by the cereal crops. The nitrogen not taken up leads to pollution of waterways and oceans, one consequence being algal blooms at river deltas causing dead zones.
Unused nitrogen fertiliser has a further environmental impact in that it is broken down in the soil by microbes and released into the atmosphere as nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
Plants require less phosphorus than nitrogen but there is a lot less available. Current estimates are that the world will reach peak phosphorus by the middle of this century. Peak phosphorus, in the same way as peak oil, means the readily available supplies have been utilised and the cost of phosphorous fertiliser will dramatically increase.
The Friday session includes plenary speakers representing the key international groups specialising in NUE and research presentations describing key rate limiting steps in NUE that are currently being targeted to improve the NUE in crop plants.
IWPMB 2010 Website