Exploring the potential for improved internal nutrient cycling in dairy farming systems, using an eco-mathematical model

J.C.J. Groot, W.A.H. Rossing, E.A. Lantinga, H. van Keulen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

21 Citations (Scopus)


Nutrient management at Dutch dairy farms is changing rapidly from strong reliance on external inputs to more prudent utilization of internal resources. This paper explores opportunities and constraints arising from this shift towards eco-technological management. A mathematical model of inorganic and organic nitrogen (N) flows in a dairy farming system was formulated based on ecological concepts, integrating processes of nutrient input, recycling, immobilization and mineralization. Recycling is defined as the mineralization of N within the year of its incorporation into herbage, which occurs through release from faeces, animal urine and non-harvested biomass. We simulated changes in inorganic and organic N per hectare, and the consequent emission (E), mineralization (MS) and recycling (R) of N for different initial amounts of inorganic and organic N. Results demonstrate that in the long term, the system evolves to equilibrium amounts of inorganic and organic N, which are strongly determined by the imposed management practices, such as fertilizer input and grassland management. In the short term, moving away from the equilibrium is possible for particular initial amounts of inorganic and organic N. In the equilibrium state, E was reduced by lowering inorganic fertilizer input rate, increasing grassland productivity and improving animal N conversion efficiency, i.e., only by production-related parameters. Only in the short term E was affected by adjustments in quality-related parameters: lower N content, lower digestibility of herbage, reduced degradability of non-harvested biomass and faeces, and parameters determining the functioning of soil biota (degradation rate, efficiency, C/N ratio). Qualityrelated parameters had no effect on internal nutrient cycling in the equilibrium state, because adjustments in MS were completely compensated by changes in R. A comparison of farming systems demonstrated that farming systems can be designed in such a way that improvement of internal nutrient cycling supports the same production with lower inputs and lower emissions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)165-194
JournalNetherlands Journal of Agricultural Science
Issue number1-2
Publication statusPublished - 2003


  • dairy farming
  • nutrients
  • cycling
  • nitrogen cycle
  • use efficiency
  • emission
  • mineralization
  • simulation models
  • grass-silage diets
  • ammonia volatilization
  • cattle slurry
  • nitrogen-utilization
  • ecosystem processes
  • surface application
  • animal production
  • grazing systems
  • herbage yields
  • soil


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