Nitrogen Rate Reduction For Carbon Credits

3 minutes

Did you know that changing your nitrogen (N) management practices for various crops creates opportunities for earning carbon credit payments?  In many instances across the U.S., too much N is applied be properly utilized by the plant. Performing best practices around N management reduces N loss pathways from nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions and groundwater leaching of nitrate (NO3). The proper use of nitrogen and other replacement options of synthetic nitrogen can generate carbon credits while also reducing crop input costs.

There are a variety of nitrogen management practices to qualify for carbon credits

  • Variable rate nitrogen: Traditionally, N was applied at the same rate across the entire field, meaning the whole field gets the same rate per acre. Variable rate applications match soil properties to a specific rate, which results in a variable rate across the field. Areas of the field that have a higher yield potential will receive a higher rate than those areas that have a lower yield potential. The overall result is increased efficiency and less wasted N. Since variable rate results in less N2O, which can be converted to a CO2 equivalent, this practice can generate carbon credits.
  • Addition of nitrogen stabilizers: With the addition of nitrogen stabilizers the crop has a prolonged time to properly utilize the nitrogen source, thus possibly lessening the need for additional N to be added and reducing your overall N rate.
  • Other applications of N (split application, y-drops, high-clearance equipment, aerial application, etc.): By utilizing these methods of application timing one can more accurately meet N needs of the crop and reduce the possibility of overapplication of N, which could reduce the rate of nitrogen needed and qualify for credit generation.
  • Modeling/software approach – Use of Adapt-N or other nitrogen management software/programs to determine nitrogen needs based on weather and historical data improve the efficiency of N applications.

Replacement Opportunities for Nitrogen Management

  • Utilizing manure for N needs: Application of manure (swine, beef, poultry, etc.) to meet the crop nutrient needs is a highly sustainable N practice. This change from a synthetic to an organic fertilizer will qualify the grower while also improving soil quality, recycle nutrients, and protect water quality if properly applied.
  • Proper application of manure: Like synthetic fertilizers, there can be an over application of manure if not done properly. Be sure to utilize a Manure Management Plan (MMP) to ensure your manure is being put to proper use and not over applied. This possible lessening in total N applied could qualify a grower if the applied rate of nitrogen per acre is reduced.
  • Adding a N fixing biological: Adding microbial “bugs in a jug” products that fix N via a variety of biological mechanisms can replace some of the N needs of the plant and can also generate carbon credits. Products such as Envita Nitrogen, PROVEN40, and Source are a few examples.
  • Altering crop rotation: An example of this would be continuous corn to a corn/soy rotation or a corn/soy rotation to a corn/wheat/soy rotation. Since these rotations include a N fixing crop the overall N demand of the rotation is reduced and less N2O is emitted, which means carbon credit payments can be quantified and generated.

–Written by Clay Craighton and Caleb Smith, Conservation Agronomists

Published on: June 2, 2022

Clay Craighton

Agronomist, Iowa, Minnesota and Missouri


I grew up in a rural community in Northern Iowa and started my journey in agriculture primarily within the swine industry working with my dad and brother throughout my youth. I grew up very involved in athletics, band, and various clubs in a rural Iowa community. I attended Iowa State University with what was originally an undecided major, but knew I wanted to live in the Midwest. I had no idea initially what I wanted to do after graduation, but had always given thought to environmental sciences and agriculture. The best way for me to give back to the communities in the area I grew up in and providing a great life for my family was for me to major in agriculture and find a niche in improving the environment as well.