Economic and environmental benefits of reducing nitrogen fertilization in potato fields

Research Brief Publication Date: May 07, 2024
Last Updated: May 07, 2024
Researchers:

Chantel J. Chizen, Maja Krzic, T. Andrew Black, Rachhpal S. Jassal, and Sean M. Smukler

Introduction

This study evaluated the economic and environmental tradeoffs of three nitrogen application rates (0, 90, and 120 kg N per hectare) in potato production.

Decades of intensive cultivation, along with challenges caused by inherent soil properties (poor drainage, fine soil textures), in the Fraser Valley delta of British Columbia (BC) have led to reduced soil quality. However, due to shortages of arable land in this region, producers are often restricted to farming in these degraded fields. To compensate for the poor soil quality, producers may find themselves applying higher nitrogen fertilizer rates than provincial recommendations. 

However, increased nitrogen fertilization can be costly to both producers and the environment. Higher application rates require more input costs and application time. Excess nitrogen in the soil also leads to pollution through nitrogen leaching into the groundwater and nitrous oxide emitted into the air.

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Sieglinde potatoes. Photo by the Centre for Sustainable Food Systems.

About this Brief

This brief was prepared by the BC Food Web team with the help of Chantel Chizen and is based on the following scientific journal article:

Chizen, C. J., Krzic, M., Black, T. A., Jassal, R. S., & Smukler, S. M. (2022). Nitrous oxide emissions from productive and degraded potato fields in the Fraser Valley delta of British Columbia. Canadian Journal of Soil Science, 102(4), 1000-1004. https://doi.org/10.1139/cjss-2022-0032

 

Key Findings

  • Overall, increasing nitrogen fertilization in potato fields (from 90 to 120 kg N per hectare) was not worth the cost.
  • Yield and revenue did not increase enough to warrant applying the higher fertilizer rate (120 kg N per hectare), especially when considering the negative environmental impacts (higher nitrous oxide emissions).