Ammonia volatilization from crop residues and frozen green manure crops

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Agricultural systems can lose substantial amounts of nitrogen (N). To protect the environment, the European Union (EU) has adopted several directives that set goals to limit N losses. National Emission Ceilings (NEC) are prescribed in the NEC directive for nitrogen oxides and ammonia. Crop residues may contribute to ammonia volatilization, but sufficient information on their contribution to the national ammonia volatilization is lacking. Experiments were carried out with the aim to assess the ammonia volatilization of crop residues left on the soil surface or incorporated into the soil under the conditions met in practice in the Netherlands during late autumn and winter. Ammonia emission from residues of broccoli, leek, sugar beet, cut grass, fodder radish (fresh and frozen) and yellow mustard (frozen) was studied during two winter seasons using volatilization chambers. Residues were either placed on top of soil or mixed with soil. Mixing residues with soil gave insignificant ammonia volatilization, whereas volatilization was 5–16 percent of the N content of residues when placed on top of soil. Ammonia volatilization started after at least 4 days. Total ammonia volatilization was related to C/N-ratio and N concentration of the plant material. After 37 days, cumulative ammonia volatilization was negligible from plant material with N concentration below 2 percent, and was 10 percent of the N content of plant material with 4 percent N. These observations can be explained by decomposition of plant material by micro-organisms. After an initial built up of the microbial population, NH4+ that is not needed for their own growth is released and can easily emit as NH3 at the soil surface. The results of the experiments were used to estimate the contribution of crop residues to ammonia volatilization in the Netherlands. Crop residues of arable crops and residues of pasture topping may contribute more than 3 million kg NH3–N to the national ammonia volatilization of the Netherlands, being more than 3 percent of the national emissions in 2005. This contribution should therefore be considered when focusing on the national ceilings for ammonia emissions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3362-3368
JournalAtmospheric Environment
Issue number28
Publication statusPublished - 2010


  • field conditions
  • n mineralization
  • nitrogen
  • decomposition
  • soil
  • denitrification
  • atmosphere
  • emissions
  • weather
  • grass

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