Original Paper

Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change

, Volume 15, Issue 2, pp 185-204

First online:

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

Nitrogen fertilizer management for nitrous oxide (N2O) mitigation in intensive corn (Maize) production: an emissions reduction protocol for US Midwest agriculture

  • Neville MillarAffiliated withW. K. Kellogg Biological Station, Michigan State University Email author 
  • , G. Philip RobertsonAffiliated withW. K. Kellogg Biological Station, Michigan State UniversityDepartment of Crop and Soil Sciences, Michigan State University
  • , Peter R. GraceAffiliated withW. K. Kellogg Biological Station, Michigan State UniversityInstitute for Sustainable Resources, Queensland University of Technology
  • , Ron J. GehlAffiliated withDepartment of Soil Science, North Carolina State University
  • , John P. HobenAffiliated withDepartment of Crop and Soil Sciences, Michigan State University


Nitrous oxide (N2O) is a major greenhouse gas (GHG) product of intensive agriculture. Fertilizer nitrogen (N) rate is the best single predictor of N2O emissions in row-crop agriculture in the US Midwest. We use this relationship to propose a transparent, scientifically robust protocol that can be utilized by developers of agricultural offset projects for generating fungible GHG emission reduction credits for the emerging US carbon cap and trade market. By coupling predicted N2O flux with the recently developed maximum return to N (MRTN) approach for determining economically profitable N input rates for optimized crop yield, we provide the basis for incentivizing N2O reductions without affecting yields. The protocol, if widely adopted, could reduce N2O from fertilized row-crop agriculture by more than 50%. Although other management and environmental factors can influence N2O emissions, fertilizer N rate can be viewed as a single unambiguous proxy—a transparent, tangible, and readily manageable commodity. Our protocol addresses baseline establishment, additionality, permanence, variability, and leakage, and provides for producers and other stakeholders the economic and environmental incentives necessary for adoption of agricultural N2O reduction offset projects.


Agriculture Baseline CO2 equivalents Cap and trade Crop yield Emission reduction credits Leakage Nitrogen management Nitrous oxide Offset market