Plants & GHGs

The NZAGRC’s former nitrous oxide and soil carbon work streams were combined into one programme this year. This ensures a strong overall framework, closer communication and full GHG analyses across the programme. The programme focusses on three key areas:

1. Identifying and prioritising plant traits for low GHG emissions;

2. Mitigation practices to maintain soil carbon and reduce nitrous oxide emissions at paddock scale; and

3. Defining the achievable soil carbon stabilisation capacity of New Zealand grassland soils.

Current progress and research stories

The potential of using alternative pastures, forage crops and gibberellic acid to mitigate nitrous oxide emissions

Di, H. J., Cameron, K. C., Podolyan, A., Edwards, G. R., de Klein, C. A. M., Dynes, R., & Woods, R. (2016). The potential of using alternative pastures, forage crops and gibberellic acid to mitigate nitrous oxide emissions. [Article]. Journal of Soils and Sediments, 16(9), 2252-2262.

Purpose

In grazed pastures, nitrous oxide (N2O), a powerful greenhouse gas and an ozone depletion substance, is mostly emitted from animal excreta, particularly animal urine-N returned to the soil during grazing. We conducted a series of four field lysimeter and plot experiments to assess the potential of using gibberellic acid (GA) and/or alternative pastures or forage crops to mitigate N2O emissions from outdoor dairy farming systems.

Materials and methods

Pasture and forage plants assessed in the experiments included Italian ryegrass (Lolium multiflorum L.), lucerne (Medicago sativa L.), diverse pastures (including plantain (Plantago lanceolata L.), chicory (Cichorium intybus L.), perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne L.) and white clover (Trifolium repens L.)), fodder beet (Beta vulgaris L.), kale (Brassica oleracea L.), as well as the standard perennial ryegrass and white clover (RG/WC) pastures. N2O was determined using a standard static chamber method in the field either on top of lysimeters or field plots.

Results and discussion

The results showed that the application of GA to urine-treated lysimeters with Italian ryegrass, lucerne or RG/WC pastures did not result in lower N2O emissions. However, the use of diverse pastures which included plantain with a lower urine-N loading rate at about 500 kg N ha−1significantly decreased N2O emissions by 46 % compared with standard RG/WC with a urine-N loading rate at 700 kg N ha−1. However, when urine-N was applied at the same rates (at 500 or 700 kg N ha−1), the N2O emissions were similar between the diverse and the standard RG/WC pastures. This would indicate that it is the N-loading rate in the urine from the different pastures that determines the N2O emissions from different pastures or forages, rather than the plants per se. The N2O emissions from cow urine from fodder beet were 39 % lower than from kale with the same urine-N application rate (300 kg N ha−1).

Conclusions
These results suggest that N2O emissions can potentially be reduced by incorporating diverse pastures and fodder beet into the grazed pasture farm system. Further studies on possible mechanisms for the lower N2O emissions from the different pastures or forages would be useful.

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