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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Department of Plant Sciences

UC Davis

Integrated nutrient management for sustainable agriculture in China


China’s economy has made great strides since 1949, and especially since China initiated economic reforms and the open-door policy in the 1980’s. The growth in agricultural production has been one of the main national accomplishments. By 1999 China was feeding 22 % of the global human population with only 9 % of the world’s arable land and per capita food availability reached the levels of developed countries. The use of fertilizers has played a crucial role, accounting for about 50 % of the yield increase. However, rapid economic growth has led to unprecedented resource exhaustion and environmental degradation. China’s ‘grain security’ will face multiple pressures stemming from resource limitation, environmental pollution and population growth. The Chinese government regards agriculture as the primary field of development of the national economy in the 21st century. The optimal agricultural developmental path for China is to improve the ratio of resource utilization and to protect the environment while guaranteeing the grain supply. This paper summarizes the trends in crop production and crop yields, fertilizer use and soil quality in China, and presents the approach of integrated nutrient management (INM) for improving crop productivity with efficient resource utilization and environmental protection. In the INM approach, the strategy is to emphasize the integrated use of nutrients from fertilizers, wastes and soil and environmental sources; managing nutrients according to different nutrients’ specific characteristics; and integrated nutrient management with sound soil management practices and other farming techniques. These new nutrient management systems can, on average, reduce N fertilizer inputs by 26%, save P fertilizer inputs by 20%, raise grain yields by 8%, and reduce N loss by 47 % compared to conventional agricultural practice.

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