Nutrient Cycling in Agroecosystems

, Volume 93, Issue 2, pp 113–126 | Cite as

Ammonia volatilization from nitrogen fertilizers applied to cereals in two cropping areas of southern Australia

  • D. A. Turner
  • R. E. Edis
  • D. Chen
  • J. R. Freney
  • O. T. Denmead
Original Article


As farmers in southern Australia typically apply nitrogen (N) to cereal crops by top-dressing with ammonia (NH3) based fertilizer in late winter or early spring there is the potential for large losses of NH3. This paper describes the results of micrometeorological measurements to determine NH3 loss and emission factors following applications of urea, urea ammonium nitrate (UAN), and ammonium sulfate (AS) at different rates to cereal crops at two locations in southern Australia. The amounts of NH3 lost are required for farm economics and management, whilst emission factors are needed for inventory purposes. Ammonia loss varied with fertilizer type (urea > UAN > AS) and location, and ranged from 1.8 to 23 % of N applied. This compares with the emission factor of 10 % of applied N advocated by IPCC ( 2007). The variation with location seemed to be due to a combination of factors including soil texture, soil moisture content when fertilizer was applied and rainfall after fertilizer application. Two experiments at one location, 1 week apart, demonstrated how small, temporal differences in weather conditions and initial soil water content affected the magnitude of NH3 loss. The results of these experiments underline the difficulties farmers face in timing fertilization as the potential for loss, depending on rainfall, can be large.


Urea Urea ammonium nitrate Ammonium sulfate Micrometeorological technique Emission factors 



This work was funded by the Australian Government Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency (formerly the Australian Greenhouse Office) through a Grains Research and Development Corporation grant. The authors would like to thank Incitec Pivot for supplying fertilizers, Rob Christie for his support in the selection of field sites and establishing and applying treatments, and Liam Norton for technical assistance.


  1. BCG (Birchip Cropping Group) (2009) Nitrogen in no-till.
  2. Black AS, Sherlock RR, Cameron KC, Smith NP, Goh KM (1985a) Comparison of three field methods for measuring ammonia volatilization from urea granules broadcast on to pasture. J Soil Sci 36:271–280CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Black AS, Sherlock RR, Smith NP, Cameron KC, Goh KM (1985b) Effects of form of nitrogen, season, and urea application rate on ammonia volatilisation from pastures. N Z J Agric Res 28:31–34CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Black AS, Sherlock RR, Smith NP (1987) Effect of timing of simulated rainfall on ammonia volatilization from urea, applied to soil of varying moisture content. Eur J Soil Sci 38:679–687CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. BOM (Bureau of Meteorology) (2009) Climate statistics for Australian sites.
  6. Bouwman AF, Boumans LJM, Batjes NH (2002) Estimation of global NH3 volatilization loss from synthetic fertilizers and animal manure applied to arable lands and grasslands. Glob Biogeochem Cycles 16:1024–1038CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bouwmeester RJB, Vlek PLG, Stumpe JM (1985) Effect of environmental factors on ammonia volatilization from a urea-fertilized soil. Soil Sci Soc Am J 49:376–381CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Cai GX, Fan XH, Yang Z, Zhu ZL (1998) Gaseous loss of nitrogen from fertilizers applied to wheat on a calcareous soil in North China Plain. Pedosphere 8:45–52Google Scholar
  9. Cai G, Chen D, White RE, Fan XH, Pacholski A, Zhu ZL, Ding H (2002a) Gaseous nitrogen losses from urea applied to maize on a calcareous fluvo-aquic soil in the North China Plain. Aust J Soil Res 40:737–748CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Cai GX, Chen DL, Ding H, Pacholski A, Fan XH, Zhu ZL (2002b) Nitrogen losses from fertilizers applied to maize, wheat and rice in the North China Plain. Nutr Cycl Agroecosyst 63:187–195CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Denmead OT (1983) Micrometeorological methods for measuring gaseous losses of nitrogen in the field. In: Freney JR, Simpson JR (eds) Gaseous loss of nitrogen from plant-soil systems, vol 9. Developments in plant and soil sciences. Martinus Nijhoff/Dr W. Junk, The Hague, pp 133–158Google Scholar
  12. Denmead OT (2008) Approaches to measuring fluxes of methane and nitrous oxide between landscapes and the atmosphere. Plant Soil 309:5–24CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Ernst JW, Massey HF (1960) The effects of several factors on volatilization of ammonia formed from urea in the soil. Soil Sci Soc Am J 24:87–90CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Fan XH, Song YS, Lin DX, Yang LZ, Zhou JM (2005) Ammonia volatilization losses from urea applied to wheat on a paddy soil in Taihu Region, China. Pedosphere 15:59–65Google Scholar
  15. FAO (Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations) (2010) FAOSTAT.
  16. FAO, Ifa (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, International Fertilizer Industry Association) (2001) Global estimates of NH3, NO and N2O from agricultural land. FAO, RomeGoogle Scholar
  17. FAO, Ifa, IFDC, Ipi, PPI (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, International Fertilizer Industry Association, International Fertilizer Development Center, International Potash Institute, Phosphate and Potash Institute) (2002) Fertilizer use by crop, 5th edn. FAO, RomeGoogle Scholar
  18. Fenn LB, Miyamoto S (1981) Ammonia loss and associated reactions of urea in calcareous soils. Soil Sci Soc Am J 45:537–540CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Flesch TK, Wilson JD, Harper LA, Crenna BP, Sharpe RR (2004) Deducing ground-to-air emissions from observed trace gas concentrations: a field trial. J Appl Meteorol 43:487–502CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Freney JR, Simpson JR, Denmead OT (1983) Volatilization of ammonia. In: Freney JR, Simpson JR (eds) Gaseous loss of nitrogen from plant-soil systems. Matinus Nijhoff/Dr. W. Junk, The Hague, pp 1–32Google Scholar
  21. Freney JR, Leuning R, Simpson JR, Denmead OT, Muirhead WA (1985) Estimating ammonia volatilization from flooded rice fields by simplified techniques. Soil Sci Soc Am J 49:1049–1054CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Freney JR, Denmead OT, Saffigna PG, Wood AW, Chapman LS, Hurney AP (1991) Ammonia loss from sugar cane fields as affected by fertilizer placement, irrigation and canopy development. In: ASSCT (ed) Proceedings of Australian society of sugar cane technologists (ASSCT), vol 13. ASSCT, pp 73–78.Google Scholar
  23. Freney JR, Denmead OT, Wood AW, Saffigna PG (1994) Ammonia loss following urea addition to sugar cane trash blankets. In: ASSCT (ed) Proceedings of Australian society of sugar cane technologists (ASSCT), vol 16. ASSCT, pp 114–121Google Scholar
  24. Harper LA, Catchpoole VR, Davis R, Weir KL (1983) Ammonia volatilization: soil, plant, and microclimate effects on diurnal and seasonal fluctuations. Agron J 75:212–218CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Heffer P (2009) Assessment of fertilizer use by crop at the global level. International Fertilizer Industry Association, Paris.
  26. IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) (1996) Climate change 1995: the science of climate change. Contribution of working group 1 to the second assessment of the intergovernmental panel on climate change. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  27. IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) (2007) Revised 2006 IPCC guidelines for national greenhouse gas inventories. The Organization for Economic Cooperation & Development, ParisGoogle Scholar
  28. Isbell RF (2002) The Australian soil classification. CSIRO, CollingwoodGoogle Scholar
  29. Leuning R, Freney JR, Denmead OT, Simpson JR (1985) A sampler for measuring atmospheric ammonia flux. Atmos Environ 19:1117–1124CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Mosier A, Kroeze C, Nevison C, Oenema O, Seitzinger S, van Cleemput O (1998) Closing the global N2O budget: nitrous oxide emissions through the agricultural nitrogen cycle—OECD/IPCC/IEA phase II development of IPCC guidelines for national greenhouse gas inventory methodology. Nutr Cycl Agroecosyst 52:225–248CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Mulvaney RL (1996) Nitrogen—inorganic forms. In: Sparks DL (ed) Methods of soil analysis. Soil Science Society of America, Madison, pp 1123–1185Google Scholar
  32. Mulvaney RL, Bremner JM (1979) A modified diacetyl monoxime method for colorimetric determination of urea in soil extracts. Commun Soil Sci Plant Anal 10:1163–1170CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Peoples MB, Freney JR, Mosier AR (1995) Minimizing gaseous losses of nitrogen. In: Bacon PE (ed) Nitrogen fertilization in the environment. Marcel Dekker, New York, pp 565–602Google Scholar
  34. Poole N (2009) Crop sensors, canopy management and better decisions. Australian Grain, Toowoomba.
  35. Prasertsak P, Freney JR, Denmead OT, Saffigna PG, Prove BG (2001a) Significance of gaseous nitrogen loss from a tropical dairy pasture fertilised with urea. Aust J Exp Agric 41:625–632CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Prasertsak P, Freney JR, Saffigna PG, Denmead OT, Prove BG (2001b) Fate of urea nitrogen applied to a banana crop in the wet tropics of Queensland. Nutr Cycl Agroecosyst 59:65–73CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Prasertsak P, Freney JR, Denmead OT, Saffigna PG, Prove BG, Reghenzani JR (2002) Effect of fertilizer placement on nitrogen loss from sugarcane in tropical Queensland. Nutr Cycl Agroecosyst 62:229–239CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Ray HE, MacGregor JM, Schmidt EL (1957) Movement of ammonium nitrogen in soils. Soil Sci Soc Am J 21:309–312CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Sherlock RR, Black AS, Smith NP (1987) Micro-environment soil pH around broadcast urea granules and its relationship to ammonia volatilization. In: Bacon PE, Evans J, Storrier RR, Taylor AC (eds) Nitrogen cycling in temperate agricultural systems. Australian Society of Soil Science, Wagga Wagga, pp 316–326Google Scholar
  40. Sherlock RR, Freney JR, Smith NP, Cameron KC (1989) Evaluation of a sampler for assessing ammonia losses from fertilized fields. Fert Res 21:61–66CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Sherlock RR, Freney JR, Bacon PE, van der Weerden TJ (1995) Estimating ammonia volatilization from unsaturated urea fertilized and urine affected soils by an indirect method. Fert Res 40:197–205CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Sommer SG, Schjoerring JK, Denmead OT (2004) Ammonia emission from mineral fertilizers and fertilized crops. Adv Agron 82:557–622CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Turner DA, Edis RB, Chen D, Freney JR, Denmead OT, Christie R (2010) Determination and mitigation of ammonia loss from urea applied to winter wheat with N-(n-butyl) thiophosphorictriamide. Agric Ecosyst Environ 137:261–266CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. White B (2009) The consultants view. Australian Grain, Toowoomba.
  45. Whitehead DC, Raistrick N (1990) Ammonia volatilization from five nitrogen compounds used as fertilizers following surface application to soils. Eur J Soil Sci 41:387–394CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Wilson JD, Thurtell GW, Kidd GE, Beauchamp EG (1982) Estimation of the rate of gaseous mass transfer from a surface source plot to the atmosphere. Atmos Environ 16:1861–1867CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Wilson JD, Catchpoole VR, Denmead OT, Thurtell GW (1983) Verification of a simple micrometeorological method for estimating the rate of gaseous mass transfer from the ground to the atmosphere. Agric Meteorol 29:183–189CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. WindTrax (2006) WindTrax 2.0. Thunder Beach Scientific, British ColumbiaGoogle Scholar
  49. Yan X, Akimoto H, Ohara T (2003) Estimation of nitrous oxide, nitric oxide and ammonia emissions from croplands in East, Southeast and South Asia. Glob Chang Biol 9:1080–1096CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Zadoks JC, Chang TT, Konzak CF (1974) A decimal code for the growth stages of cereals. Weed Res 14:415–421CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • D. A. Turner
    • 1
  • R. E. Edis
    • 1
  • D. Chen
    • 1
  • J. R. Freney
    • 2
  • O. T. Denmead
    • 3
  1. 1.Melbourne School of Land and EnvironmentThe University of MelbourneMelbourneAustralia
  2. 2.CSIRO Plant IndustryCanberraAustralia
  3. 3.CSIRO Land and WaterCanberraAustralia

Personalised recommendations