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Livestock production in the agricultural sector is deemed to be the top producer of ammonia emissions, through volatilization of ammonia from waste (faecal production).
Ammonia (NH3) is a rudimentary colorless gas and most abundant nitrogen-containing compound in the atmosphere, when released, it reacts with oxides of nitrogen and sulfur to form particles.
Particles formed can deposit deep in the lungs and may result in increased morbidity or mortality in related diseases(Anderson et al. 2003).
Approximately 94 % of ammonia emissions in Europe results from the agriculture and livestock sectors. They come not only from faecal waste but also from the use of nitrogen fertilizers, which accounts for almost 15% of the total.
This article focuses on the impact of ammonia emission on biodiversity.
Sources of Ammonia
- Livestock (faecal waste)
- Forest fires and slash burning
Impact of Ammonia
Nitrogen is abundant in livestock feeds, which enhances milk or egg production, however excess nitrogen is excreted. Excreted nitrogen in the faecal matter, often volatizes as ammonia into the atmosphere.
A gradual increase in nitrogen supply to terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems may result in eutrophication (Walker et al. 2000). Eutrophication is defined as excessive richness of nutrients in a lake or any water body, frequently due to runoff from the land, which causes a dense growth of plant life and a depletion of oxygen.
Moreover, ammonia may be toxic to the natural environment due to loss in species sensitive to increase in ammonia. A major effect of ammonia pollution on biodiversity is the impact of nitrogen accumulation on plant species diversity and composition within affected habitats, resulting in species invasion in an area that thrive in ammonia saturated environments.
Subsequently, changes in species composition due to high nitrogen content in the environment may trigger susceptibility of plants to frost, drought and pathogens. This negatively, affects the agriculture sector.
Strategic ways to tackle excessive ammonia emission
- Livestock feed: excess protein ingested by animals is excreted as nitrogen compounds, leading to ammonia emissions, therefore, farming communities are sensitized not to give excess protein during feeding.
- Awareness creation to farmers: through media, farmers can be informed about dangers of excessive ammonia emission to the environment.
- Introducing vermicomposting: faecal waste can be used as a vermin-compost component which makes use of worms. These worms digest manure with other organic substances such as leaves to make up organic manure.
- Regulations on fertilizer application: this factor helps fight against surface run offs of excess fertilizers to water bodies, that results in eutrophication and subsequent reduction in oxygen in water. Therefore, extension officers can help disseminate information to farming communities.
- Burning on rangelands: seasonal burning on farms ought to be regulated, in order to allow sufficient dead matter to accumulate.
- Intensive production systems such as poultry units and feedlots have abundant faecal waste. Hence, designing housing that does not expose manure to excessive volatilization is essential. Despite the cost involved, it helps fight the ammonia emissions.
In conclusion, ammonia emissions are a subject under discussion in the agricultural sector, hence strategies to counter this are underway. Let’s help reduce ammonia emission every-way possible on our rangelands.
Anderson, N., Strader, R., & Davidson, C. (2003). Airborne reduced nitrogen: ammonia emissions from agriculture and other sources. Environment International, 29(2-3), 277-286.
Walker, J. T., Aneja, V. P., & Dickey, D. A. (2000). Atmospheric transport and wet deposition of ammonium in North Carolina. Atmospheric Environment, 34(20), 3407-3418.