How is nitrogen assimilated by plants?

Nitrogen is essential for life on Earth. However, although 78% of the Earth’s atmosphere consists of nitrogen gas, this abundant supply is useless to most living organisms as it cannot be assimilated in this form.

Despite this, through a series of transformations, nitrogen in the soil can be assimilated by plants, especially those grown on agricultural land.

The role of nitrogen in cultivated plants

Nitrogen plays a crucial role in both the yield and quality of agricultural production. It is one of the main building blocks of amino acids, proteins and nucleic acids essential for crop growth and development.

Crop nitrogen deficiency reduces protein synthesis and consequently the chlorophyll content of plants, the most common photosynthetic pigment in the plant kingdom.

This pigment, found in the chloroplasts of plant cells, is what gives plants their green colour. Moreover, chlorophyll plays a crucial role in photosynthesis by intercepting light energy, which is then transformed into chemical energy.

In short, without nitrogen, crop yields are bound to be lower, which is why many farmers adopt fertilization programs that include nitrogen.

Most plants absorb nitrogen from the soil through their roots

With the exception of plants of the legume family (peas, beans, soybeans) which have the ability to bind atmospheric nitrogen gas (N2) through symbiosis with bacteria of the Rhizobium genus, most cultivated plants assimilate mineral nitrogen.  They therefore feed on ammonium (NH4+) and nitrates (NO3-) available in the soil. These mineral elements are naturally taken up by the roots of the plants.

As a general rule, crops absorb nitrogen in the form of nitrate when it is available. Subsequently, they transfer it to the leaves where enzymatic reduction to ammonium takes place in the presence of nitrate reductase. This ammonium is then metabolized to amine (NH2-). The process will eventually lead to the formation of amino acids that contribute to the development and health of the plant.

Nitrogen fertilizers: a good way to increase the amount of available nitrogen in the soil

In the 19th century, a chemist by the name of Fritz Haber changed the world of agriculture by successfully producing nitrogen fertilizer from atmospheric nitrogen. According to some, he literally saved the world from famine by enabling new highs in agricultural yields.

Today, many farmers use granular or liquid nitrogen-enriched fertilizers to ensure that their crops have all the nutrients they need to grow.

Crop rotations can also enrich the soil with nitrogen

As mentioned above, some crop varieties have the ability to assimilate nitrogen from the air in the soil. These plants, mostly legumes, will even be able to produce more assimilable nitrogen than they actually use.  This explains the importance of crop rotation on agricultural land, i.e. alternating between growing a legume and a plant that requires a lot of nitrogen to grow.

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In summary, cultivated soils must contain sufficient nitrogen for maximum yield. When this happens, the roots will take the nitrogen elements that the plants need from the soil and transport them to the leaves where they are transformed into amino acids and proteins that promote growth and resistance.

If you want to make sure that your crops have ample nitrogen supply, you can ask the Agro-100 team for advice. Many of our products help prevent nitrogen deficiencies.

Why do you spread lime on a field?

In agriculture, soil quality is known to be closely linked to crop quality. This is why farmers have for centuries applied a variety of products to their land to maximize crop yields.

One fertilizer product used by many farmers is lime. In this article, find out when its use is appropriate and how it affects plant growth.

Lime is used to adjust the pH of acidic soils

Crop health is largely dependent on the balance of pH levels in the soil, since this influences the exchange of minerals between the soil solution and plant roots. When the soil becomes too acidic (pH level < 5), it becomes a toxic environment for crops.

There is, however, a way to overcome a situation where the soil pH is too low. When the soil becomes acidic, lime can be applied to the soil to increase its pH and reduce its acidity.

In general, a soil test should be done before liming the soil. This gives farmers an idea of the pH level of different parts of their cropland and helps them apply the right amount of lime.

Lime spreading and its benefits for crops

Applying lime therefore helps adjust the pH of acidic soils to a level that promotes better harvests. But why are crops better when the pH level is right?

Lime stimulates microbial activity

When the soil is too acidic, the beneficial microbes it contains are unable to grow. This reduces the ability of crop roots to absorb nutrients. Agricultural lime application creates an environment that promotes the microbial activity essential for healthy crop growth.

Lime application increases nutrient uptake by roots

When growing in acidic soil, plants have difficulty absorbing nutrients. Soil that is pH-balanced through the application of lime provides a healthy environment for plants because it helps them absorb nutrients.

When the roots absorb a greater volume of nutrients, the entire root system benefits and becomes stronger. A strong root system helps crops withstand environmental stresses such as rain, wind or drought.

Applying lime can increase the effectiveness of fertilizers and herbicides

When cropland is too acidic, it can reduce the effects of the herbicides used on it. Similarly, acidic soil can also reduce the effectiveness of fertilizers. 

Restoring a more neutral pH in the soil can make fertilization programs  much more effective. This is especially true for certain liming products, known as nutriliming agents, which also enrich the soil by providing micronutrients.

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In conclusion, spreading lime on a field helps balance its pH by reducing acidity levels. This has a positive impact both on microbial activity and the absorption of nutrients by plants, as well as on the efficiency of fertilizers. Naturally, this all can result in better crop yields.

If you would like to lime your fields, we invite you to contact the Agro-100 team. Our team specializes in the development of nutriliming agents made from FRMs (fertilizing residual materials) and can recommend products adapted to your needs.