Science Publications

Application of gibberellins to increase productivity and reduce nitrous oxide emissions in grazed grassland: a review of the evidence

David Whitehead, Grant R. Edwards, Assessment of the application of gibberellins to increase productivity and reduce nitrous oxide emissions in grazed grassland, Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment, Volume 207, 1 September 2015, Pages 40-50, ISSN 0167-8809,

Emissions of nitrous oxide from grassland systems are attributable largely to the use of nitrogen fertilisers and the excreta deposited by grazing animals. There is increasing interest in using gibberellins as a naturally-occurring growth promotant of herbage that could be used to reduce the use of nitrogen fertilisers while leading to similar or greater increases in dry matter. This may provide practical opportunities to reduce nitrogen intake by ruminants and extend the seasonality of herbage growth in spring and autumn while reducing nitrogen losses, resulting in lower rates of nitrogen excretion by grazing animals and reduced nitrous oxide emissions. Our findings from a review of previous studies confirm that gibberellins promote dry matter production, especially when applied in early spring or late summer/early autumn. When gibberellins are applied alone without nitrogen fertiliser, the nitrogen concentration of herbage is reduced and the impacts on forage quality are small and often not significantly different from those for untreated controls. We calculated the consequences of enhanced herbage production on nitrogen excreta returned to the soil as urine by a grazing dairy cow and estimated that one application of gibberellins will result in a relative reduction in nitrous oxide emission per urination event of 18% when compared with emissions from using nitrogen fertiliser. We used the OVERSEER® model and nitrous oxide emissions factors to estimate the impacts of changing herbage dry matter production, foliage nitrogen concentration and timing of one application of gibberellins on annual nitrous oxide emissions for a dairy farm. For one application of gibberellins in late summer and early spring, we estimate reductions in nitrous oxide emissions of 1.6% and 1.3%, respectively, relative to the response for an untreated control. Incorporating the effects of reduced use of nitrogen fertiliser by substituting one split application of fertiliser in late summer or autumn with gibberellins, we estimate reductions on nitrous oxide emissions of between 5 and 6% relative to the response for the untreated control. We conclude that the use of gibberellins with reduced addition of nitrogen fertiliser has the potential to reduce nitrous emissions from grazed grassland. However, acceptance of widespread use of gibberellins will be dependent on cost benefit analysis for farmers.

Keywords: Forage quality; Gibberellins; Grassland production; Grazed grassland; Greenhouse gas mitigation; Nitrous oxide

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