Measures of nitrogen use efficiency and nitrogen loss from dairy production systems

J. M. Powell, C. A. Rotz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

48 Scopus citations


In dairy production systems, tradeoffs can occur between fertilizer N applications and crop N use, feed N consumption and manure N excretion, and environmental impacts. This paper examines (i) how stocking rates affect N imports and management on dairy farms, N use efficiency (NUE; i.e., the amount of applied N incorporated into product N), and N loss; (ii) how reductions in fertilizer N and feed N may affect crop and milk production, NUE, and N loss; and (iii) why tradeoffs in N use outcomes should be considered when attempting to enhance overall NUE and reduce N loss. The Integrated Farm Simulation Model simulations of two representative dairy farm types and analyses of regional studies, long-term field experiments, and cow nutrition trials were used to demonstrate that (i) stocking rate affects cropping patterns, fertilizer and feed imports, and N loss; (ii) although fertilizer N reductions of 20 kg N ha-1 may reduce slightly the crude protein (CP) content of corn silage (which would require purchase of additional CP supplements), this practice should not affect longterm corn yield but would reduce nitrate (NO3) and nitrous oxide (N2O) losses by 13 to 38%; (iii) dietary CP could be reduced on many dairy farms, which would not affect milk production but would reduce ammonia (NH3) and N2O emissions by 15 to 43%; and (iv) greater recognition of the tradeoffs in N use and N loss are needed to provide a better understanding of the potentials to enhance overall NUE and reduce environmental N loss from dairy production systems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)336-344
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Environmental Quality
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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