Nitrogen Surplus Benchmarks for Controlling N Pollution in the Main Cropping Systems of China

Chong Zhang, Xiaotang Ju*, David Powlson, Oene Oenema, Pete Smith

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

147 Citations (Scopus)


Nitrogen (N) surplus is a useful indicator for improving agricultural N management and controlling N pollution. Few studies have developed benchmark values for cropping systems in China, a country with the largest N fertilizer use in the world. We established N surplus benchmarks for 13 main cropping systems, at optimal N management, using results from >4500 on-farm field experiments and a soil surface balance approach. These cropping systems accounted for about 50% of total N fertilizer consumption in Chinese agriculture in 2009. The results showed that N surplus benchmarks for single cropping systems ranged from 40 to 100 kg N ha-1 yr-1 (average 73 kg N ha-1 yr-1), and for double cropping systems from 110 to 190 kg N ha-1 yr-1 (average 160 kg N ha-1 yr-1), roughly twice that of single cropping systems. These N surplus benchmarks may be further refined, following further decreases in N deposition rates and reactive N losses as a result of strict implementation of "4R-nutrient stewardship" and improvements in fertilization techniques and agronomic managements. Our N surplus benchmarks could serve as realistic targets to improve the N management of current conventional practices, and thereby could lay the foundations for a more sustainable N management in China.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)6678-6687
Number of pages10
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 18 Jun 2019


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