NUOnet Vision: Efficient use of nutrients to optimize production and product quality of food for animals and humans, fuel and fiber in a sustainable manner that contributes to ecosystem services.
Best nutrient management practices are critical for maintaining profitable economic returns, sustaining higher yields, lowering environmental impacts, optimizing nutritional quality, and providing ecosystem services. Best management practices that improve nutrient use efficiencies can reduce nutrient losses from agricultural systems. However, we need to improve our understanding of biological, physical and chemical influences on nutrient processes. For instance, crop use efficiency of nitrogen (N), the primary macronutrient regulating yield and protein content, can be reduced by processes such as denitrification (N2O and N2 emission), leaching (NH4-N, NO3-N, and organic-N), ammonia (NH3-N,) volatilization, surface runoff and erosion, disease, and non-crop competition. Similarly, we need to obtain more information about biological and physical cycles of nutrients, especially phosphorus (P), including factors that influence nutrient availability from fertilizers, crop residues, cover crops, manures, and other byproducts. We need a better understanding of relationships between soil biological communities and ecosystems, including plant roots and root exudates, and availability and uptake of macro- and micro-nutrients. In addition, we need information regarding how these practices impact yields, organoleptic qualities, and the macro- and micro-nutritional composition of plants. This information will improve our ability to develop best nutrient management practices.
Optimal soil nutrient levels are critical for maximizing economic returns, increasing sustainable yields, lowering environmental impacts, sustaining ecosystem services and optimizing nutritional and organoleptic qualities of human and animal foods. Efficient management practices are crucial for increasing economic returns for land managers in a sustainable manner while producing high quality of food for animals and humans with reduced off-site transfer of nutrients from agricultural areas in watersheds. Optimizing N and P inputs requires more information about nutrient inputs from fertilizers, manures, composts, agricultural byproducts, cover crops, and other nutrient sources in addition to nutrient cycling within soils. This requires data from long-term nutrient management studies across a wide range of soils, crops, and environmental conditions. Land management needs are to connect nutrient management practices for crops with nutrient use efficiency; crop quality; crop chemical composition and nutritional value, quality and acceptability for animal and human health. Development of databases that enable the scientific exploration of connections among data generated from diverse research efforts such as nutrient management, fate and ecosystem service outcomes, nutritional composition of crops, and animal and human health, is needed.
Nitrogen is a key nutrient that enhances agricultural yield and protein content, but multiple N loss pathways, as previously mentioned, reduce crop N use efficiency (NUE). Implementing proper management practices is needed to reduce N losses from agricultural systems. ARS has multidisciplinary scientific teams with expertise in soils, ecological engineering, hydrology, livestock management and nutrition, horticulture, crop breeding, human and animal nutrition, post-harvest management and processing, and other areas, and intentional collaboration among these teams offers opportunities to rapidly improve NUE and crop quality and reduce off-site N losses.
Similarly, increased P use efficiencies are needed to enhance and ensure sustainable agricultural production and to reduce environmental degradation of water sources. Manure is a valuable source of P and it can be used as a soil amendment to reduce crop production costs. However, there is a need to improve our understanding of the biological and physical cycles of soil P, as well as to obtain more information about P supplies from fertilizer, crop residues, cover crops, manure, and byproducts, and livestock nutrition impacts on manure properties.
There is also a need for a better understanding of soil biological communities and ecosystems, including plant roots and root exudates and how their interactions with crops and community ecology affect yield and the uptake of macro- and micro-nutrients and the ultimate nutritional composition and organoleptic qualities of the crop. Studies documenting the responses of crop-associated biological communities to management practices and genetic technologies implemented across multiple environments (e.g., soil types and chemistries, hydrologic regimes, climates) will improve our understanding of gaps in macro- and micro-nutrient management strategies.
A goal of the USDA-ARS is to increase agricultural production and quality while reducing environmental impacts. The Nutrient Uptake and Outcomes (NUOnet) database will be able to help establish baselines on nutrient use efficiencies; processes contributing to nutrient losses; and processes contributing to optimal crop yield, nutritional and organoleptic quality. This national database could be used to calculate many different environmental indicators from a comprehensive understanding of nutrient stocks and flows. Increasing our understanding of stocks and flows could help in the identification of knowledge gaps as well as areas where increased efficiencies can be achieved at a national level. NUOnet could also be used to develop tools to derive cost-benefit curves associated with nutrient management improvement scenarios and assess local, regional and national impacts of off-site nutrient loss. Understanding how agricultural production impacts human health is a challenge, and the database could be used to link crop management strategies to crop chemical composition to human consumption patterns and ultimately to human health outcomes. A national database will also be very important for development and evaluation of new technologies such as real-time sensing or other proximal and remote sensing technologies that enable assessment of nutrient use efficiencies, particularly at the grower level. The database could also be used to develop analyses that will contribute to the recommendation of policies for resource allocations that will most effectively fulfill the goals of the Grand Challenge. Such a national database with contributions from peers across different national programs could also enhance collaborations between ARS, universities, and extension specialists, as well as with producers, industry, and other partners.
See the NUOnet Home Page for more information about this database and strategic goals.