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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Nitrogen fertilizer use in California: Assessing the data, trends and a way forward


Nitrogen fertilizer is an indispensable input to modern agriculture, but it also has been linked to environmental degradation and human health concerns. Recognition of these trade-offs has spurred debate over its use. However, data limitations and misinformation often constrain discussion, cooperative action and the development of solutions. To help inform the dialogue, we (1) evaluate existing data on nitrogen use, (2) estimate typical nitrogen fertilization rates for common crops, (3) analyze historical trends in nitrogen use, (4) compare typical nitrogen use to research-established guidelines and (5) identify cropping systems that have significant influence on the state’s nitrogen cycle. We conclude that a comprehensive grower self-monitoring system for nitrogen applications is required to improve nitrogen-use information and to better support evidence-based decision making. The discussion here presents a primer on the debate over nitrogen fertilizer use in California agriculture.

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