NUCLEUS: a virtual joint centre to deliver enhanced Nitrogen Use effiCiency via an integrated SoiL-plant systEms approach for the Uk & BraSil

Lead Research Organisation: University of Nottingham
Department Name: Sch of Biosciences


World agriculture has made enormous advances in recent decades in increasing crop production largely through increasing the application of pesticides and synthetic fertilisers. Nitrogen (N) is a key nutrient and often a limiting factor for crop growth supporting the need for the addition of synthetic N fertilisers for most global agricultural systems. However a high proportion of this, often estimated to be >50%, is currently lost into the environment often through the soil via leaching or to the atmosphere as a gas emission. This loss of N to the environment is represents a significant economic loss and pollutes surface and ground-waters, impacting negatively on ecosystems and increasing greenhouse gas emissions (GHG). Cutting across this is our future need to increase agricultural production in order to meet the demands of global food security for the rapidly expanding population. This challenge will necessitate a significant improvement in the management of N and in particular Nitrogen Use Efficiency (NUE) in both Brazil and the UK. The extent to which the release of reactive N can be mitigated to some degree through approaches related to improving agronomic NUE (e.g. using no-tillage systems, intercropping, combined crop-livestock systems, applying organic wastes to soils as amendments will be addressed here for the first time in an integrated holistic way between 13 partner organisations in Brazil and the UK. The NUCLEUS Virtual Centre will seek to undertake interdisciplinary research, with physical and social scientists, using the latest technologies to assess, understand and recommend new strategies concerning agronomic NUE management to support future crop development and food production. NUCLEUS will build on several current collaborations, whist generating many new ones for the future and seek to engage and inspire the next generation of scientists to tackle this important area. As the current level of understanding concerning the integration of these approaches is limited, there is potential for the outputs of NUCLEUS to be a bench mark for tropical and temperate agriculture throughout the world.

Planned Impact

The NUCLEUS consortium will undertake key research and provide training for a new generation of scientists to focus on delivering the enhanced Nitrogen Use Efficiency (NUE) that is urgently needed to contribute to the sustainable intensification programme required to meet food security in Brazil and the UK. We will achieve impact through the following objectives:
1.Policy: Integrated science for integrated policy relevant evidence In creating our NUCLEUS and developing the research programme, we identified the key research gaps in effective agronomic management of NUE. The outcomes of the experimental WP's 1-4 will be immediately useful for future policy decisions concerned with the management of N including losses via leaching and volatilisation. The research informs on how pressures on farmers to increase productivity will impact on water resources, pollution, climate change and provide solutions for the development of mitigation strategies. We will invite key policy makers to our annual conference to ensure that the policy relevant outcomes of our project reach policy teams in Brazil and the UK quickly.
2.Industry Engagement: Through existing contacts we will ensure knowledge exchange to agricultural advisors and farmers. All NUCLEUS partners will, where appropriate, try to involve local farmers in research experiments to improve uptake of best practices. We will invite both the industrial companies and farmers to workshops to showcase the innovation and state of the art technologies being employed in NUCLEUS such as use of in situ sensors to monitor real time soil N dynamics and underground imaging of soil water movement to demonstrate the potential in our approach and benefits of engagement.
3.Public: Engagement through seminars and the media: Each NUCLEUS partner is dedicated to public outreach activities (e.g. public seminars, open days). We will encourage our early career researchers to participate in this exposing them to delivering their science to the public, with training offered as part of their CPD. For project inception and major discoveries we will approach the Brazilian and UK media for coverage via our institutions' press offices. Web based resources hosted at UoN will include a project website, Twitter/Facebook and other social media resources aimed at a range of end-users including the public, students and scientists. Engagement with broader public: All publications considered of general interest will be highlighted as a twitter feed. All publications above impact factor c. IF=8 will be highlighted in a press release. Many of NUCLEUS' partners participate in hosting visiting schools. We intend to promote this among the consortium to inspire students to consider science as a future career, and we will introduce them to the project and its background. Local impacts: The proposal has a strong user focus and involves close collaboration between researchers from Brazil and the UK and encourages the full involvement and participation of non-academic stakeholders, notably local farmers, local entrepreneurs and other agricultural workers at all stages. To disseminate project results more widely we will engage with these groups at all stages of the research e.g. by visits, demonstrations and attendance at workshops to illustrate the benefits of the approaches we identify so that farming communities in Brazil and UK not directly involved with the centre can benefit from at a later date.
4.Science: NUCLEUS will deliver high impact, innovative technological advances in management systems to enhance NUE such as in the use of cover crops or additions of soil amendments which can be adapted to derive livelihood benefits to meet local needs. We will propose and organise supporting scientific sessions or workshops at relevant conferences and at the project end, we will propose several special issues of leading crop and soil science journals to showcase the outputs from our final year conference.


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Description This project is seeking to evaluate the effect of changes in agronomic practice on enhancing nitrogen use efficiency. We are approximately half way through so the research results are only just coming to light but they are demonstrating great promise. We have made some exciting new discoveries on how native grass species in brazil can be used to both fix and through their root system enhance the retention of N added to the soil. we have evaluated the combination of different brachairia grasses grown in conjunction with maize and observed great differences in the fine root system which translate to enhanced N retention. We have shown that low cost nitrate electrodes can be buried in the ground and used to monitor the soil nitrate concentration, upscaling to Brazil it will be possible to ensure that N applications are targeted and therefore not undertaken when not needed.
Exploitation Route we are working with smallholder farmers in Brazil in on farm trials to demonstrate the efficacy of our research.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment

Description In Maranhao, North Brazil we have a series of experiments that are being run on local smallholder farmers. Designed by our social scientists this is referred to as a 'mother and baby' approach. The experimental findings from the lab research are being communicated to farmers via workshops and tested on farm trials. This includes the use of brachairia as an intercrop with maize, use of in situ nitrate sensors to ensure a more targeted approach to applications and the use of charred waste materials as soil amendments. The translation of this laboratory research to the field will have a significant impact on the socioeconomic livelihood of the local farmers.
First Year Of Impact 2017
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment
Impact Types Societal,Economic

Description UK Parliament - Environmental Audit Committee, Soil Health Enquiry
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Gave evidence to a government review