Researchers and farmers have sought ways to produce more food for decades to meet the demands of a rapidly growing global population. However, the stakes are higher now as the agriculture sector faces the imperative task of ensuring sustainability while boosting productivity. One of the most promising findings in this direction has emerged from the Long-Term Trial (LTT) at Yara International’s Hanninghof research center in Dülmen, Germany. The study emphasizes the importance of balanced nutrient management in agriculture for sustaining crop yields, improving soil health, and reducing environmental impacts.
Established in 1958, the Hanninghof LTT aims to understand the long-term effects of nutrient management on soil health and crop production. Given that changes in soil fertility occur gradually, long-term trials offer invaluable insights into how nutrient application impacts crop yields, water use efficiency, and environmental sustainability. The study, led by scientists Melkamu Jate and Joachim Lammel, involved tests on 16 plots of loamy sand soil, each subjected to different combinations of organic and mineral fertilizers.
Unbalanced fertilizer application can lead to soil degradation, increased greenhouse gas emissions, and water pollution. The study found that the best solution is to use a balanced combination of mineral and organic fertilizers. According to Rejane Souza, SVP of Global Innovation at Yara International, “applying the right nutrients, in the right amount, at the right time and place” ensures environmental benefits and farmer profitability.
The trial found that a balanced application of mineral and organic fertilizers increased soil organic carbon (SOC) levels, enhancing soil fertility and structure. This is corroborated by other global LTTs, such as the Magruder LTT in Oklahoma, where similar increases in SOC were observed.
Nutrient management also has direct implications for water use. The study reported that using a balanced set of mineral nutrients led to the highest water use efficiency. Omission of nutrients led to a decrease in efficiency by up to 63%, posing potential threats to water conservation in agriculture.
From an economic perspective, the findings are equally compelling. The balanced nutrient application resulted in the highest crop yield and income, with economic losses ranging from 89 to 812 USD per hectare when nutrients were omitted.
According to Dr. Dejene Eticha, a senior scientist at Yara International, agriculture is not just about food production but also its impact on the economy, society, and environment. The Hanninghof LTT provides scientific backing for a balanced nutrient management strategy that serves these broader goals, making it a global legacy for sustainable food production systems.
As we grapple with food security and environmental sustainability challenges, the long-term trial at Hanninghof serves as a beacon. Its findings endorse a balanced and integrated approach to nutrient management, signaling a way forward for the global agriculture sector. This science-based guideline is about sustenance and coexistence—with healthier soils, reduced environmental footprints, and more prosperous farming communities.
Image provided by Yara International