Variability in yield responses, physiological use efficiencies and recovery fractions of fertilizer use in maize in Ethiopia

Workneh Bekere Kenea, Pytrik Reidsma*, Katrien Descheemaeker, Jairos Rurinda, Tesfaye Balemi, Martin K. van Ittersum

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Physiological use efficiency (PUE), recovery fraction of applied nutrients and indigenous soil nutrient supply form the basis of site-specific fertilizer recommendations. To derive these parameters, and understand their variability, as well as yield responses and fertilizer use profitability, nutrient omission trials (NOTs) were conducted in farmers’ fields across different agro-ecologies in Bako (n = 37), Central Rift Valley (CRV) (n = 66) and Jimma (n = 44) regions of Ethiopia in the main crop growing seasons of 2015 and 2016. The treatments used in the NOTs were control, PK, NK, NP, NPK and NPKSM, where SM refers to secondary and micro nutrients, and applied levels of N, P and K, were 120, 40 and 40 kg /ha, respectively. The results showed that the average yields of the control treatment were 4.5, 3.1 and 2.9 t/ha in Bako, CRV and Jimma, whereas the average yields for the NPK treatment were 8.3, 4.9 and 7.9 t/ha in the respective regions. Nitrogen was limiting grain yield in all the three regions, whereas P limited yield only in CRV and Jimma. The average N agronomic efficiencies in Bako, CRV and Jimma were 25.7, 13.3 and 35.5 kg grain kg−1 of applied N, respectively, under NPK fertilizer use. With the levels of fertilizer used in the NOTs, NK, NP and NPK treatments were profitable in Bako and Jimma, whereas PK was not. None of the fertilizer treatments were profitable in CRV. Soils in Bako and Jimma supplied more N and K but less P than the soils in CRV. The PUE at maximum accumulation, median and maximum dilution of N were 27, 54 and 80 kg grain kg-1 N, while for P, the values were estimated to be 194, 350 and 505 kg grain kg-1 P, and for K they were 16, 52 and 87 kg grain kg−1 K. The estimated average N, P and K recovery fractions were 0.29, 0.05 and 0.06, respectively, in Bako, 0.22, 0.10 and 0.15 in CRV, and 0.38, 0.10 and 0.01 in Jimma. While these average parameter values are relevant, in particular agronomic use efficiencies and recovery fractions showed large variability and, moreover, averages were lower than what is deemed feasible with good agronomy. We discuss the variability in the derived parameters, the relation with yield levels, soil nutrient supply and rainfall, and conclude that caution is needed when deriving fertilizer recommendations from parameters obtained in on-farm experiments. Using single estimated average values is not sufficient: variability in these parameters and sub-optimum values need to be explained first, and derived insight should be used when developing site-specific fertilizer recommendations.

Original languageEnglish
Article number126228
JournalEuropean Journal of Agronomy
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2021


  • Agronomic efficiency
  • Fertilizer use profitability
  • Nutrient omission trial
  • Site-specific fertilizer recommendation
  • Soil nutrient supply
  • Target yield

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