Transcript of the Nitrous Oxide Research Program (NORP), Northern

​This eight minute video was produced to communicate the outcomes of the Climate Change Research Program from the Nitrous Oxide Research Program (NORP) in Northern Australia. It provides information to help land managers understand possible ways they can quantify nitrous oxide emissions and develop new ways to manage the gas. This research has been funded by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry to help prepare Australia’s primary industries for climate change and build the resilience of Australia’s agricultural sector.

Department of Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry
Transcript – NORP North Video (Final) – Nitrous Oxide Emissions: Demystifying nitrous oxide

13 June 2012


  1. Voice Over
    Results three years into a national research program are not only quantifying Australia’s nitrous oxide emissions, but also helping farmers develop new ways to manage the gas.

    Professor Peter Grace who heads the Australian Government’s Australia’s Farming Future Nitrous Oxide Research Program (NORP) said that more than half of nitrous oxide emissions come from human activities, with the majority of these resulting from agriculture.

    Pie Chart graphic:
    Total Nitrous Oxide (N2O) Emissions in Australia
    6% Industrial process
    2% Waste
    15% Transport
    49% Stationary energy
    6% Land use change and forestry
    18% Agriculture
    4% fugitive emissions

    Professor Peter Grace, Institute for Sustainable Resources, Queensland University of Technology (QUT):
    Nitrous oxide has a global warming potential three hundred times that of carbon dioxide. So it is a very potent greenhouse gas.

  2. Voice Over:
    While traditional emissions research has focussed on soil carbon and carbon dioxide, Professor Grace said research data regarding Australian Nitrous Oxide soil emissions from Australian soils is limited and that’s why the NORP is so important.

    Professor Peter Grace, Institute for Sustainable Resources, QUT:
    What we actually wish to achieve is to develop simple tools and some practical guidelines for growers to reduce their nitrous oxide emissions but at the same time increase their nitrogen use efficiency and productivity.
    We can’t make generalised management strategies that will work for everyone. That’s why we have gone into six areas in the first instance and hope to go into more in the future to get more exact information.

  3. Voice Over:
    These six core field sites include Mackay and Kingsthorpe in Queensland, Tamworth in New South Wales, Hamilton and Terang in Victoria and at Wongan Hills in Western Australia.

    Graphic: Map of Australia
    NORP core field sites:

    • Mackay, QLD
    • Kingsthorpe, QLD
    • Tamworth, NSW
    • Hamilton, VIC
    • Terang, VIC
    • Wongan Hills, WA

    Professor Peter Grace, Institute for Sustainable Resources, QUT:
    In the majority of cases we feel that too much fertiliser is being applied at any time.
    It’s efficiency can be greatly increased by better management of the fertiliser, the potential use of inhibitors. We also look at other management practices that growers have a direct hand on.

  4. Voice Over:
    The main drivers of nitrous oxide emissions in Australian agricultural soils are
    • soil carbon content
    • nitrogen inputs
    • soil moisture content and
    • temperature
  5. Voice Over:
    Associate Professor Richard Eckard, Director of the Primary Industries Climate Challenges Centre, says the levels of emissions can vary across different agricultural systems.

    Associate Professor Richard Eckard, Director, Primary Industries Climate Challenge Centre:
    What we find is that in the extensive grains areas and in the low rainfall the fluxes might be low, but as you come into the higher rainfall regions, where you’re converting long term pasture into cropping in those high rainfall regions, we have seen extremely high fluxes on nitrous oxide; more in one day, in some cases, than extensive wheat systems see in a whole year.  Across different agricultural enterprises you’ll find very large differences.

    What we find in dairy systems and sugarcane systems is very large fluxes of nitrous oxide whereas in some of the cotton systems that are in lower rainfall regions or at lower rates of nitrogen, the emissions of nitrous oxide are much lower.

  6. Voice Over:
    In Kingaroy in Queensland Dr Mike Bell from the University of Queensland, is working with farmers to develop management strategies to minimise nitrogen fertiliser losses from crops and pastures.

    Dr Mike Bell, Principal Research Fellow, Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation (QAAFI) University of QLD:
    So this area has been a traditional cropping area. It used to grow peanuts and corn, were the main crops, but as the climates have changed and the rainfall has become a little bit less reliable we’ve had a lot of people that have moved out of that into mixed cropping systems, pastures, cattle fattening and then back into cropping when the seasons turn for the good. So that’s created some challenges. In particular, managing nitrogen, because farmers had their fertiliser programs fairly well fine-tuned with a legume every second year, so they didn’t need to apply a lot of nitrogen fertiliser because the legume residues would provide it. When you go into a pasture phase which these guys are doing now in the mixed cropping systems, you have more organic matter in the soil, nitrogen release is slower, particularly if you’ve got grasses, grass and grass/legume mixes, and so farmers are less certain in how to manage their nitrogen fertiliser. And that has big implications for both their profitability and productivity as well as for things like nitrous oxide emissions.

  7. Voice Over:
    Dr Bell said that when farmers come out of grazing and back into cropping they are not 100% sure of how much nitrogen they really need to apply.

    Dr Mike Bell, Principal Research Fellow, QAAFI University of QLD:
    We’re trying to develop soil tests that will help farmers to know exactly how much nitrogen they need. We’re also measuring the effectiveness of different fertiliser products in terms of their nitrous oxide emissions. So, it’s a, potentially we’re looking for the ‘win win’, where we minimise the environmental impacts and maximise the benefits to farmers.

    The work we’re doing with NORP is actually looking at continuous monitoring on a daily basis so right through a growing season you can get accumulative total of losses. So a situation where you might have legume residues from a pasture trickling nitrogen out during a growing season, you might have small emissions on a daily basis, whereas nitrogen fertiliser additions you might have a big burst of emissions after the fertiliser application and then not much later on in the season. So you have to be able to monitor right through the season to be able to make the comparisons between those two systems.
    What we would like to be able to do is to say if you’ve been in a pasture phase and you’ve built up your soil organic matter we can do a soil test now which will give you a guide as to whether you’ve got to increase your nitrogen fertilizer rates or back off on them. At moment none of the soil tests that we’ve got seem to be doing a very good job about predicting the relative availability of nitrogen under these mixed sward systems.

  8. Voice Over:
    Dr Bell said they have evaluated which mix of legumes and grass minimise nitrogen losses. He said the mixed grass/legume pasture is perhaps showing the most promise in terms of slowing down the release of nitrogen.

    Dr Mike Bell, Principal Research Fellow, QAAFI University of QLD:
    What we’ve seen in the previous season is when we’re comparing a legume sward like lucerne or burgundy bean to a sward of where they’re mixed with grasses, or just a pure grass like forage sorghum sward, which is commonly used around here, is that those legumes can release an extra 50 to 60 units or kilos of nitrogen per hectare during the subsequent crop season. So that’s 50 to 60 kilos of nitrogen that the farmer doesn’t have to apply as fertiliser.

    Unfortunately, as I said, the soil tests don’t show that up when the farmer does his soil tests at the beginning of the season, so we’ve got to try and work out a better way of predicting what’s going to happen so the farmer can fine-tune his management. Because certainly, in our opportunity measurements of gas losses, we certainly saw a big spike in nitrous oxide emissions after fertilisation, sure, but we also saw legume swards trickling out nitrous oxide a little bit more quickly than say a grass sward did. So, that’s where the monitoring over the whole season becomes very important.

    One of the key issues that we’re following with this is the efficiency of the use of nitrogen. Whether it’s from legumes or whether it’s from fertilisers. So for example if you’ve got nitrous oxide losses you’ve probably also got N2 losses and so it’s an inefficient use of that nitrogen to grow crops. So it costs farmers money as well as impacting on the environment. So one of the things we’ve been doing in these trials here at Kingaroy is looking at the recovery of nitrogen either from legumes and legume residues and soils, or from nitrogen fertilisers in the subsequent crops, so we can get direct measurements of how efficiently we are using nitrogen and that will directly feed back to the economics of production and profitability for growers, as well as obviously the environmental impact in terms of nitrous oxide losses.

    Professor Peter Grace, Institute for Sustainable Resources, QUT:
    The overall benefit of this program will be growers will have a clearer picture of how they manage their resources on-farm. They’ll be able to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and potentially gain some credit through carbon farming initiatives. But, more importantly they will have a better handle on resource use efficiency and that is the key to profitability.

  9. Voice Over:
    The Climate Change Research Program funds research projects and on-farm demonstrations to help prepare Australia’s primary industries for climate change and build the resilience of Australia’s agricultural sector into the future.

    The Nitrous Oxide Research Program is supported by funding and in-kind support from the following partners:

    Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC)
    Queensland University of Technology (QUT)
    Sugar Research and Development Corporation (SRDC)
    Victorian Department of Primary Industries (VIC DPI)
    University of Western Australia (UWA)

    Thank you to the participants of this video:

    Professor Peter Grace – QUT
    Associate Professor Richard Eckard – Uni of Melbourne
    Dr Mike Bell – QAAFI, UQ


Last reviewed: 7 October 2020
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