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RESEARCH ARTICLE

Nitrogen balance in Australia and nitrogen use efficiency on Australian farms

J. F. Angus A C and P. R. Grace B
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A CSIRO Agriculture and Food, GPO Box 1700, Canberra 2601, ACT, Australia and EH Graham Centre, Charles Sturt University, Locked Bag 588, Wagga Wagga, NSW 2678, Australia.

B Queensland University of Technology, 2 George St, Brisbane, Queensland 4000, Australia.

C Corresponding author. Email: john.angus@csiro.au

Soil Research 55(6) 435-450 https://doi.org/10.1071/SR16325
Submitted: 20 January 2017  Accepted: 30 June 2017   Published: 21 August 2017

Abstract

The amount of reactive N in soils on the Australian continent appears to be increasing, mainly because of biological N-fixation by permanent pastures in the dryland farming zone. This gain is partly offset by N-mining by crops, which we estimate have removed between one-fifth and one-quarter of the original soil N. The vast areas of non-agricultural land and arid rangelands appear to be in neutral N balance and the relatively small area of intensive agriculture is in negative balance. There are regional N losses from the sugar and dairy industries to groundwater, estuaries and lagoons, including the Great Barrier Reef. Fertiliser N application is increasing, and is likely to increase further, to compensate for the soil-N mining and to meet increasing crop yield potential, but fertiliser-N represents a relatively small fraction of the Australian N balance. The dryland farming zone utilises the largest amounts of native and fertiliser N. The average fertiliser application to dryland cereals and oilseeds, 45 kg N ha–1, is low by international standards because of the small N-demand by dryland crops and because there are no subsidies on crops or fertiliser that promote overuse. The efficiency of N-use is relatively low, for example about 40% of fertiliser N is recovered in the aboveground parts of dryland wheat and the rest is retained in the soil, denitrified or otherwise lost. We suggest further research on fertiliser-application methods to increase crop recovery of fertiliser, as well as research to reduce the surplus N from permanent pasture.

Additional keywords: 15N, crops, dairy, immobilisation, denitrification, mineralisation, nitrogen budget, nitrogen mining.


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