Plants need nitrogen to grow. The use of chemical fertilizers since the early 20th century (à Haber-Bosch process) has led to the agricultural revolution with increasing high-quality yields. Without nitrogen fertilizers crops reach less than half of their potential yield.

Even though plants have access to nitrogen from many naturally occurring sources like soil, high yields and high quality are not possible without the application of mineral and/or organic nitrogen-containing fertilizer. However, only about 50% of the applied nitrogen is absorbed by the plants, and the rest is bound to the soil or lost as ammonia, nitrous oxide and nitrogen gas to the air and/or nitrate to the water, with a negative effect on the environment.

Fertilizer and AgBalance

Fertilizer inputs include mineral and organic fertilizers. Depending on the availability of data, either predefined or unspecified datasets can be used to model the production of the fertilizers and characterize their properties. The predefined fertilizer inputs are modeled with default literature values for dry matter, macronutrient and heavy metal contents. For unspecified fertilizers, the values of dry matter and macronutrient content needs to be provided.

For mineral fertlizers the production as well as the transportation of the fertilizer is reflected in AgBalance. The emissions arining during the production of organic fertilizers are not allocated to the crop, and are therefore only part of the analysis if livestock is included into the study. 

Impacts of Fertilizer

The application of fertilizers contributes to many environmental impact categories. Nitrous Oxide emissions heavily drive Climate Change, Nitrate emissions as well as ammonia are contributing to Eutrophication and the amount of product applied influcences Biodiversity. Furthermore, fertilizers contain heavy metals that show toxicity profiles and resources are needed to produce mineral fertilizers. Therefore, the list of relevant impact categories is rather long:  


Technical documentation