Global animal production and nitrogen and phosphorus flows

Qian Liu, Jingmeng Wang, Zhaohai Bai, Lin Ma, Oene Oenema*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

49 Citations (Scopus)


Animal production systems provide nutritious food for humans, income and survivability for numerous smallholder farms and transform residues to valuable products. However, animal production is implicated in human health issues (diet-related diseases, zoonosis, antimicrobial resistance) and environmental burdens (ammonia and greenhouse gas emissions, eutrophication of surface waters, biodiversity loss). This paper reviews changes in global animal production and associated nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) flows over the past 50 years, during which time total animal production roughly tripled. Cattle still dominate the world in terms of animal biomass, but the number and total production of pigs and poultry have increased faster. Animal production systems are highly diverse and respond to changes in markets. Specialised systems have become more dominant, especially in developed and rapidly developing countries. The annual production of N and P in manure is similar to the amounts of N and P in synthetic fertiliser produced annually, but manure nutrients are often not recycled effectively and used efficiently by plants. Nutrient losses greatly depend on the system, management and regulations. Nitrogen and P use efficiency (NUE and PUE respectively) at the animal level is in the range 5-45%, depending on animal category, feeding and management. NUE of mixed crop-animal systems may range from 5% to 65% depending on NUE at the animal level, and the utilisation of manure nitrogen and new nitrogen inputs. Potentially, values for PUE are higher than those for NUE. Solutions for improving NUE and PUE in animal production are based on a coherent set of activities in the whole chain of 'feed production-animal production-manure management'. A high efficiency at the system level is achieved through combination of high NUE and PUE at the animal level and effective recycling and utilisation of manure N and P in crop production. Specific regional regulations (low-emission manure storage and application, proper application limits and timing) greatly contribute to high efficiency at a system level.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)451-462
JournalSoil Research
Issue number5-6
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • feed
  • livestock density
  • manure management
  • nitrogen balance
  • nitrogen use efficiency
  • phosphorus balance
  • phosphorus use efficiency
  • system


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