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Narrowing yield gaps and increasing nutrient use efficiencies using the Nutrient Expert system for maize in Northeast China

Xu, Xinpeng, He, Ping, Pampolino, Mirasol F., Li, Yuying, Liu, Shuangquan, Xie, Jiagui, Hou, Yunpeng, Zhou, Wei
Field crops research 2016 v.194 pp. 75-82
agronomic traits, carbon dioxide, corn, decision support systems, emissions factor, equations, farmers, farms, fertilizer rates, fertilizers, grain yield, greenhouse gas emissions, greenhouse gases, hybrids, multiple cropping, nitrogen, nitrous oxide, nutrient use efficiency, phosphorus, pollution, potassium, production technology, profitability, simulation models, soil, soil analysis, spring, China
A science-based, reliable, and feasible fertilizer recommendation method is required to respond to the low nutrient use efficiency caused by inappropriate fertilization practices. Soil test-based fertilizer recommendations are difficult to use for smallholder farms because of constraints such as access, cost and timeliness in multiple cropping systems. In this study, we combined on-farm experiments from 2012 to 2014 in 20 farmers’ fields on spring maize in Northeast China with a simulation model (Hybrid Maize model), to test the continual performance in agronomic, economic and environmental aspects of the Nutrient Expert for Hybrid Maize decision support system. Six treatments were set as follows: Nutrient Expert (NE), farmers’ practice (FP), soil testing (OPTS) and nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K) omission treatments based on NE. We estimated yield gaps as the difference between simulated yields with the Hybrid Maize model and measured yields; calculated economic benefit and nutrient use efficiency; and estimated greenhouse gas emissions using published equations approximating nitrous oxide emissions as a function of N fertilizer rate. On average, the NE, FP, and OPTS treatments attained yields of 80%, 74%, and 77% of the potential yield, respectively. The exploitable yield gap between the NE and FP treatments was 0.9tha−1, and between the NE and OPTS treatments was 0.5tha−1. On average, the NE treatment increased the gross return above fertilizer cost (GRF) by US$303 and US$167 compared with the FP and OPTS treatments across all sites, respectively, in which about 91% and 98% of increase GRF was attributed increase in grain yield rather than reduction in fertilizer cost. There were slightly higher nutrient use efficiencies under the NE treatment than under the OPTS treatment. Relative to the FP treatment, however, on average, the NE treatment increased recovery efficiency of N, P, and K by percentage point of 12, 15, and 10, respectively. Agronomic efficiency of N, P, and K were increased by 6, 35, and 10kgkg−1, respectively. Finally, partial factor productivity increased by 14kgkg−1 for N and 45kgkg−1 for P while decreased by 29kgkg−1 for K. Furthermore, the calculated soil inorganic N at harvest of maize crop, total greenhouse gas (GHG, kg CO2 eqha−1) emissions, and GHG emission intensity (kg CO2 eqt−1 grain) were 42%, 17%, and 23% lower in the NE treatment than the FP treatment, respectively. We conclude that the Nutrient Expert for Hybrid Maize system has the potential to close existing yield gaps in the spring maize production systems of Northeast China by improving yield, nutrient use efficiency, and profitability with low environmental pollution.