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Using Nitrogen-15 in Agricultural Research: Improving Crop Productivity in Panama

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Students on a field visit learn about the applications of Nitrogen-15 in agrarian research. (Photo: IDIAP/Panama)

A seminar focusing on the use of Nitrogen-15 (15N) in agricultural research has taken place at the Agricultural Research Institute of Panama (IDIAP) from 12 to 16 June 2017. The course, led by Dr Plinio Barbosa de Camargo of the University of Sao Paulo’s Centre for Nuclear Studies in Agriculture (CENA), Brazil, brought together eight postgraduate students working on soil and water management at the University of Panama, together with the national counterpart Dr Jose Villarreal. The seminar was supported by an IAEA technical cooperation project[1] dedicated to enhancing rice crop yields in Panama, and was focused on explaining the main applications of isotope 15N in agrarian research. Rice is a staple food crop in Panama, and the national government is seeking to achieve food security for the population.

Nitrogen-15, a stable isotope of nitrogen and an essential plant nutrient, is used to determine the fertilizer use efficiency of crops. It is also used to quantify the amount of nitrogen that crops can acquire from the atmosphere through a process known as biological nitrogen fixation. This helps to reduce the application of purchased nitrogen for crop and livestock production, and can result in very significant cost-savings in agriculture. Nitrogen-15 is also used to assess integrated soil-water management practices to optimize crop productivity. It can be applied to various vital crops including rice and sugar cane.

The seminar participants also had an opportunity to visit the sugar cane plantations of the sugar mill La Estrella, one of the most important in Panama. Here, they learned about plot design, forms of 15N application, and sampling of leaves and soil for the development of experiments using this important isotope.

Students attending the seminar also benefitted from classroom sessions. (Photo: IDIAP/Panama)

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[1] PAN5023: Enhancing Rice Crop Yield by Improving Water and Nutrient Management through the Application of Nuclear and Isotopic Techniques.

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