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Nitrogen balance is a predictor of farm business performance in the English Farm Business Survey

Gray Betts, Clare; Hicks, Damien; Reader, Mark; Wilson, Paul

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Clare Gray Betts

Damien Hicks

Mark Reader

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Professor of Agricultural Economics


Global environmental sustainability and food security are fundamental societal issues, and most crop production relies upon inputs from organic or inorganic nitrogen sources. Previous research in the Global North has demonstrated a typical over application of nitrogen across global agriculture with substantial negative impacts on the environment. The objective of this work was to draw on English Farm Business Survey (FBS) data of non-organic General Cropping and Cereal farms to explore the relationship between farm gate nitrogen balance, fertilizer application advice and farm business performance. A mixed effects generalized modeling approach was used to partition the variance into random (such as year, or farm ID) and fixed effects (those of interest). Whilst the financial performance of farm businesses is subject to high variance and multiple drivers, a negative relationship was detected between business performance and farm gate nitrogen balance, we demonstrate that nitrogen lost to the environment of >60 kg per hectare is associated with a significant negative impact on farm performance. Supplier-provided fertilizer advice was also associated with reduced farm performance. These results imply a positive effect on farm performance of enhancing on-farm understanding of crop nutrient requirements through the provision of accredited fertilizer advice. Within the stated bounds our model demonstrates good predictivity on randomly subsetted data, and is presented as a tool for use in scenario modeling of interventions such as agri-environment schemes, Natural Capital and Ecosystems Assessment, and the UN Sustainable Development Goals.


Gray Betts, C., Hicks, D., Reader, M., & Wilson, P. (2023). Nitrogen balance is a predictor of farm business performance in the English Farm Business Survey. Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems, 7, Article 1106196.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Jan 5, 2023
Online Publication Date Jan 23, 2023
Publication Date Jan 23, 2023
Deposit Date Jan 26, 2023
Publicly Available Date Jan 26, 2023
Journal Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems
Electronic ISSN 2571-581X
Publisher Frontiers Media SA
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 7
Article Number 1106196
Keywords Horticulture; Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law; Agronomy and Crop Science; Ecology; Food Science; Global and Planetary Change
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