Comparison of organic and integrated nutrient management strategies for reducing soil N2O emissions

Rebecca F. Graham, Sam E. Wortman, Cameron M. Pittelkow

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


To prevent nutrient limitations to crop growth, nitrogen is often applied in agricultural systems in the form of organic inputs (e.g., crop residues, manure, compost, etc.) or inorganic fertilizer. Inorganic nitrogen fertilizer has large environmental and economic costs, particularly for low-input smallholder farming systems. The concept of combining organic, inorganic, and biological nutrient sources through Integrated Nutrient Management (INM) is increasingly promoted as a means of improving nutrient use efficiency by matching soil nutrient availability with crop demand. While the majority of previous research on INM has focused on soil quality and yield, potential climate change impacts have rarely been assessed. In particular, it remains unclear whether INM increases or decreases soil nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions compared to organic nitrogen inputs, which may represent an overlooked environmental tradeoff. The objectives of this review were to (i) summarize the mechanisms influencingN2O emissions in response to organic and inorganic nitrogen (N) fertilizer sources, (ii) synthesize findings from the limited number of field experiments that have directly compared N2O emissions for organic N inputs vs. INM treatments, (iii) develop a hypothesis for conditions under which INM reduces N2O emissions and (iv) identify key knowledge gaps to address in future research. In general, INM treatments having low carbon to nitrogen ratio C:N (<8) tended to reduce emissions compared to organic amendments alone, while INM treatments with higher C:N resulted in no change or increased N2O emissions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number510
JournalSustainability (Switzerland)
Issue number4
StatePublished - Mar 28 2017


  • Inorganic nitrogen fertilizer
  • Integrated nutrient management (INM)
  • Organic nitrogen inputs
  • nitrous oxide emissions

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • Environmental Science (miscellaneous)
  • Energy Engineering and Power Technology
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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