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Worldwide conference promotes collaboration and knowledge on nitrogen

Last week, Aarhus University hosted the XXII International Nitrogen Workshop with the theme "Resolving the Global Nitrogen Dilemma - Opportunities and Challenges." Here, 345 researchers from around the world gathered to discuss pressing nitrogen issues. The five-day conference, held from June 17-21, 2024, was a great success, offering intensive knowledge sharing and fruitful debates.

Photo: Eusun Han - Aarhus University

With participants from more than 30 different countries, the conference was a true global gathering of experts. Attendees listened to seven inspiring keynote speeches, witnessed 144 research presentations, and visited over 200 poster presentations—all within just five days at the Søauditorierne in Aarhus. 

Background and objectives 

The importance of nitrogen (N) in agriculture cannot be overstated. More than 50% of the world’s population is nourished by crops grown with synthetic nitrogen fertilizers, a testament to the impact of the Haber–Bosch process invented in the early 20th century. This process has significantly boosted global crop production, allowing farmers to triple yields while only increasing cultivated land by 30%. However, the downside is stark: by 2050, food demand is projected to rise by 35-56% compared to 2010, leading to increased demand for nitrogen fertilizers and agricultural land. 

The use of nitrogen fertilizers, while essential for crop productivity, poses significant environmental and health challenges. On average, only 50% of the applied nitrogen is absorbed by crops, with the remainder causing issues like nitrate leaching, ammonia volatilization, and nitrous oxide emissions. These lead to problems such as harmful algal blooms, air pollution, global warming, and reduced biodiversity. The socio-economic impact is also profound, affecting yields, farmer profits, and food security, especially in developing countries. 

The necessity of global collaboration 

During the conference, participants shared their latest research and innovative solutions on how to balance the need for increased nitrogen input in agriculture while minimizing nitrogen loss that leads to environmental pollution. The large turnout highlighted a broad consensus that global collaboration is crucial to addressing these complex challenges. 

Professor Jørgen E. Olesen from the Department of Agroecology, who hosted the conference, remarked, "Over the past five days, we have made significant strides in understanding and addressing the global nitrogen challenges." 

Broad topics and in-depth discussions 

The conference program included six regular and three special sessions, covering a wide range of topics related to the nitrogen dilemma. Keynote speeches from leading experts presented the latest research findings and perspectives. Two roundtable discussions provided opportunities for in-depth discussions and promoted interdisciplinary collaboration. 

"This conference has been an exceptional opportunity to share our research and gain new perspectives on how to tackle nitrogen challenges," said Diego Abalos, one of the main organisers of the conference from the Department of Agroecology at Aarhus University. 

Networking and future collaborations 

Networking and new collaborations were a focal point for many participants, who left with new contacts and ideas for future collaborations across national borders and research interests. The conference created a platform for knowledge sharing and laid the groundwork for future collaborations that could lead to concrete solutions to nitrogen issues. 

As the conference concluded, the focus shifted to future projects and collaborations. Professor Jørgen E. Olesen summarized, "I am convinced that the connections and ideas generated here will have a lasting impact on future research and practice." 

The conference in Aarhus has thus not only been a milestone for nitrogen research but also a springboard for further international collaborations and solutions that can make a real difference for the environment and agriculture worldwide. By fostering cooperation among researchers, farmers, advisors, industry, and policymakers, the XXII International Nitrogen Workshop has taken a significant step towards resolving the global nitrogen dilemma and ensuring a sustainable future.