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How Does the Use of Fertilizer Affect the Nitrogen Cycle

Discover how fertilizers impact the nitrogen cycle, affecting plant growth, soil health, and the environment. Learn sustainable usage tips.

Fertilizers are useful in improving soil health and growing plants for better yield. When the natural composition of soil lacks certain nutrients, fertilizers are ideal for boosting plant growth. They can add minerals such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and calcium to the soil.

For instance, nitrogen is vital for plant growth as it helps in photosynthesis and fruit development. Depending on the composition, the fertilizer can impact the natural nitrogen cycle process that balances the elements in soil, water, and air. Hence, it makes the correct use of nitrogen-based fertilizers crucial to maintain this balance. 

Learning about the impact of nitrogen on plants, soil, and the environment is essential to prevent excessive leaching and altering groundwater permanently. We’ll discuss how fertilizers impact the nitrogen cycle and the best methods to incorporate when using these fertilizers. 

What is the Nitrogen Cycle?

About 78% of the atmosphere is nitrogen. Since it is essential for plant growth and human existence, it exists in many forms. The element has to be present in the soil in a usable form for the plants. For this, we have a nitrogen cycle that moves nitrogen from soil, water, plants, and the atmosphere to make it available in the right quantity and form.

What is the Nitrogen Cycle

Few natural processes, such as microbe activity and lightning, are a part of nitrogen cycles. Plants thrive on nitrogen forms– nitrate and ammonium. Any other form can cause the plants to have stunted growth. The soil microbes convert ammonium to nitrate due to aerobic reactions. 

Adding fertilizers is another way for nitrogen to be made available to the plants. When used in the right quantity, it aids in root and plant development. Fertilizers such as nitric acid, synthetic ammonia, ammonium nitrate, and urea improve the nitrogen content in the soil. 

Why is the Nitrogen Cycle Crucial for Plants?

We know nitrogen is essential for plant development, including healthy roots, flowers, and leaves.

Why is the Nitrogen Cycle Crucial for Plants

Here is how the nitrogen cycle helps in plant growth: 

  • Nitrogen helps in chlorophyll synthesis by converting light energy to chemical energy. 
  • The nitrogen cycle biochemically converts inert nitrogen to usable form for plants. 
  • Ammonification helps in decomposing dead plants and animals to release nitrogen into the environment. 
  • Nitrates and nitrites aid in cell formation and microbe activity. 
  • The nitrogen cycle leads to the growth of amino acids in plant cells, resulting in rapid growth.
  • Production of enzymes and protein increases with adequate nitrogen in the soil.

Impact of Fertilizers on Plants and Nitrogen Cycle

Fertilizers have a massive impact on the yield and quality of the crops. Nitrogen-based fertilizers are commonly used for the same reason. However, their overuse can increase the nitrogen content in soil and lead to negative impacts. Excessive nitrogen may cause eutrophication and groundwater surplus. We’ll discuss this in detail below. 

Impact of Fertilizers on Plants and Nitrogen Cycle

Current Cultivation Needs 

With the help of fertilizers, more crop yields are generated to satisfy the growing needs. This has helped in more food production with the limited land available. However, some may be tempted to overuse fertilizers without knowing the overall impact on the environment. 

The excessive use of nitrogen defeats its purpose, leading to less fruit production and weaker roots. The solution to meeting cultivation needs is focusing on the right use of organic and inorganic fertilizers

Effect on Nitrogen Cycle

The natural nitrogen cycle has to be considered when adding fertilizers. Otherwise, the negative impact of excessive nitrogen may show up as a loss of plant usable nitrogen, denitrification of soil microbes, and growth of weeds. One major impact of excessive nitrogen is its presence in water runoff. 

This leads to eutrophication and the growth of algal blooms. The rise in growth of algae leads to oxygen depletion in the water. Due to this, aquatic life suffers, impacting several species and biodiversity.

Besides, the contamination of freshwater due to nitrogen-filled groundwater will make it unfit for human consumption. Additionally, leaching of nitrogen-rich water can get into river bodies, harming animal and human health. 

Nitrogen Fixation and Denitrification

More nitrogen in the soil can impact the nitrogen-fixing bacteria in the soil. This causes the atmospheric nitrogen to decrease, and plants cannot convert it into usable form. In addition, denitrification converts excessive nitrogen in the soil to the air. 

Ultimately, the nitrogen in the soil will not be enough for plant growth even after adding the fertilizers. The delicate soil balance will also change due to this vicious cycle of heavy nitrogen fertilizer use and plant decay.

Crop Toxicity

The Presence of extra nitrogen in soil will impact the percentage of phosphorus, calcium, and potassium. Moreover, this can alter the plant’s nutrient profile by decreasing or increasing a certain nutrient. It may result in toxicity in crops, making them unfit for consumption. 

Sustainable Use of Fertilizers for Nitrogen Cycle

Here are some sustainable fertilizer practices that can help the nitrogen cycle process:

Sustainable Use of Fertilizers for Nitrogen Cycle

Soil Testing

Before using a fertilizer, it is necessary to know the current soil profile. This can be done with the help of soil testing and adding nitrogen only when the plant needs it. The demand for nitrogen will also be different depending on the plant species. So, the soil profile and plant needs have to be considered when adding fertilizers. 

Correct Application

Fertilizers come in liquid, crystal, and granular form. Their correct application methods must be followed to ensure the plants are receiving the right nitrogen content. With the precise application of fertilizers, the soil quality can be altered gradually, preventing sudden shock to the plants and microbes. 

Crop Rotation

Some crops use more nitrogen, while others have high nitrogen demands. Cycling such crops after a yielding season can add depleted nutrients to the soil. For instance, legumes help in nitrogen-fixing by converting nitrogen from air and adding it to the soil. 

Beans and legumes can be rotated with tomatoes in second growing cycles. This can be followed by sweet corn to get the most yield. Crop rotation can naturally balance the nitrogen cycle between the soil and the atmosphere.

Organic Fertilizer Use

Organic fertilizers are slow-release in comparison to chemically formulated fertilizers. They have nutrients in the right amount and do not lead to over-fertilization. As a result, they do not alter the soil health quickly, giving plants more time to adjust to the rise in nitrogen. 

The slow-release organic fertilizers are also able to kick start the microbial activity for converting nitrogen. On the other hand, inorganic fertilizers are pure compounds that can alter soil health quickly. They can also leach into the deeper layers of soil, impacting the constitution permanently.

Wrapping Up

The use of fertilizers is important for boosting plant growth and maintaining soil health. We recommend using fertilizers considering the plant’s needs and current soil condition. Several natural processes are simultaneously occurring and impact the need for fertilizers. The nitrogen cycle is a natural process that relies on the atmosphere, soil, and microbes present in it. 

So, farming should be carefully done to not alter this delicate natural process. When using nitrogen-based fertilizers, it’s important to consider the nitrogen cycle. The right amount of nitrogen will support plant growth. On the other hand, excessive nitrogen will lead to poor soil and groundwater health. 

You may conduct soil tests to learn about the nutrient densities and then choose the right nitrogen percentage. Make sure you focus on sustainable fertilizer use, minimizing the harmful impact of minerals on the environment. Connect with professional fertilizer manufacturers and sellers for your requirements. 

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