Nitrogen fertilization is vital for productive agriculture and efficient land use. However, globally, approximately 50% of the nitrogen applied is lost to the environment, causing inefficiencies, pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions. Rainfall and its effect on soil moisture are the major components controlling nitrogen losses in agriculture. Thus, changing rainfall patterns could accelerate nitrogen inefficiencies. We used a mechanistic modeling platform to determine how precipitation-optimal nitrogen fertilization timings and resulting crop nitrogen uptake have changed historically (1950–2020) and how they are predicted to change under the RCP8.5 climate scenario (2021–2069) in the South East of England. We found that historically, neither precipitation-optimal fertilization timings nor resulting plant uptake changed significantly. However, there were large year-to-year variations in both. In the 2030s, where it is projected to get wetter, precipitation-optimal fertilization timings are predicted to be later in the season and the resulting plant uptake noticeably lower. After 2040, the precipitation-optimal uptakes are projected to increase with earlier precipitation-optimal timings closer to historical values, corresponding to the projected mean daily rainfall rates decreasing to the historical values in these growing seasons. It seems that the interannual variation in precipitation-optimal uptake is projected to increase. Ultimately, projected changes in precipitation patterns will affect nitrogen uptake and precipitation-optimal fertilization timings. We argue that the use of bespoke fertilization timings in each year can help recuperate the reduced N uptake due to changing precipitation.
- climate change
- nitrogen use efficiency