Organic inputs to reduce nitrogen export via leaching and runoff: A global meta-analysis

Zhibiao Wei, Ellis Hoffland, Minghao Zhuang, Petra Hellegers, Zhenling Cui*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

28 Citations (Scopus)


Organic inputs as a substitution for, or addition to, chemical fertilizers can potentially mitigate N losses. However, it is not well known how their effects on N leaching and runoff depend on application approaches. We conducted a global meta-analysis of 129 studies to compare the effects of organic inputs on N export via leaching and runoff. We compared three application approaches: chemical fertilizer N substituted by organic fertilizer with: 1) equal amounts of total N or, 2) equal amounts of mineral N and 3) additional organic fertilizer N on top of chemical fertilizer. The meta-analysis showed that organic inputs reduced overall N leaching and runoff by 15% and 29%, respectively, without compromising crop yield, and that this effect was significantly influenced by the application approach taken. Organic substitution of chemical fertilizer N with equal amounts of total N decreased both leaching and runoff by more than 30% and hardly affected crop yield. Substitution with equal amounts of mineral N generally increased crop yield by 6% but also increased N leaching by 21%. Organic inputs in addition to chemical fertilizer N did not affect leaching and runoff. The differences between application approaches were reinforced with increased treatment duration. The loss ratios of leaching and runoff were 14% and 4.5%, respectively, from chemical fertilizer, and 9.2% and 2.6%, respectively, from organic fertilizer. The optimal substitution rates differed between leaching (40–60%) and runoff (60–100%) when substitution was based on equal amounts of total N. We conclude that substitution of chemical for organic fertilizer at equal amounts of total N is most effective in reducing N export via leaching and runoff without compromising crop production.

Original languageEnglish
Article number118176
JournalEnvironmental Pollution
Publication statusPublished - 15 Dec 2021


  • Application approaches
  • Leaching
  • Loss ratios
  • Organic inputs
  • Runoff


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