Nitrogen mass flow in China's animal production system and environmental implications

F. Wang, Z. Dou, L. Ma, W.C. Ma, J.T. Sims, F. Zhang

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China's economic boom in recent decades has stimulated consumer demand for animal products and consequently, a vast expansion in animal production. From 1978 to 2006, the number of animals increased by 322% for pigs, 209% for poultry, and 2770% for dairy cattle. The objective of the present study was to quantify nitrogen mass flow in China's animal production system at the national scale and to elucidate potential environmental implications. A comprehensive analysis was performed combining statistical records with data from the scientific literature and supplemental survey information. Results indicate that approximately 18 Mt of N flowed through the Chinese animal production system in 2006. Nitrogen input to the system was from various feed materials, including 6.8 Mt (38% of total) from roughage, 4.4 Mt (24%) from byproducts, 2.3 Mt (13%) from cereal grains, and 1.6 Mt (9%) each from crop residues and oilseed cakes, with the remaining N (16%) obtained from other feedstuffs. Nitrogen outputs from the system included edible animal products (2.4 t, 13% of total), nonedible animal parts (e.g., bones, skins) (3.8 Mt, 21%), and excreta (12 Mt, 66%). At the national level, the excreta would average 28 Mg (as excreted) and 90 kg N ha(-1) of cropland. However, at the provincial level, it varied from 1 Mg ha(-1) (5 kg N ha(-1)) in Qinghai to 97 Mg ha(-1) (243 kg N ha(-1)) in Sichuan. In regions with excreta in the intermediate rate (e.g., Hebei Province, 115 kg N ha(-1)) or high rare (e.g., Sichuan Province, 243 kg N ha(-1)), animal manure contributes significantly to nutrients polluting groundwater and/or surface waters. It is crucial for China to develop and implement proper management practices to maximum the beneficial use of the 12 Mt excreta N while minimizing its environmental footprint.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1537-1544
JournalJournal of Environmental Quality
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2010


  • food-production
  • dairy farms

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