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Optimising crop production and nitrate leaching in China: Measured and simulated effects of straw incorporation and nitrogen fertilisation

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The sustainability of growing a maize—winter wheat double crop rotation in the North China Plain (NCP) has been questioned due to its high nitrogen (N) fertiliser use and low N use efficiency. This paper presents field data and evaluation and application of the soil–vegetation–atmosphere transfer model Daisy for estimating crop production and nitrate leaching from silty loam fields in the NCP. The main objectives were to: i) calibrate and validate Daisy for the NCP pedo-climate and field management conditions, and ii) use the calibrated model and the field data in a multi-response analyses to optimise the N fertiliser rate for maize and winter wheat under different field managements including straw incorporation.
The model sensitivity analysis indicated that a few measurable crop parameters impact the simulated yield, while most of the studied topsoil parameters affect the simulated nitrate leaching. The model evaluation was overall satisfactory, with root mean squared residuals (RMSR) for simulated aboveground biomass and nitrogen content at harvest, monthly evapotranspiration, annual drainage and nitrate leaching out of the root zone of, respectively, 0.9 Mg ha−1, 20 kg N ha−1, 30 mm, 10 mm and 10 kg N ha−1 for the calibration, and 1.2 Mg ha−1, 26 kg N ha−1, 38 mm, 14 mm and 17 kg N ha−1 for the validation. The values of mean absolute deviation, model efficiency and determination coefficient were also overall satisfactory, except for soil water dynamics, where the model was often found erratic. Re-validation run showed that the calibrated Daisy model was able to simulate long-term dynamics of crop grain yield and topsoil carbon content in a silty loam field in the NCP well, with respective RMSR of 1.7 and 1.6 Mg ha−1. The analyses of the model and the field results showed that quadratic, Mitscherlich and linear-plateau statistical models may estimate different economic optimal N rates, underlining the importance of model choice for response analyses to avoid excess use of N fertiliser. The analyses further showed that an annual fertiliser rate of about 300 kg N ha−1 (100 for maize and 200 for wheat) for the double crop rotation with straw incorporation is the most optimal in balancing crop production and nitrate leaching under the studied conditions, given the soil replenishment with N from straw mineralisation, atmospheric deposition and residual fertiliser.
This work provides a sound reference for determining N fertiliser rates that are agro-environmentally optimal for similar and other cropping systems and regions in China and extends the application of the Daisy model to the analyses of complex agro-ecosystems and management practices under semi-arid climate.
Original languageEnglish
JournalEuropean Journal of Agronomy
Pages (from-to)32-44
Number of pages12
Publication statusPublished - 16 Jun 2016

    Research areas

  • Double crop rotation, Dynamic modelling, Maize, Model evaluation, Nitrogen response curves, Soil mineral nitrogen, Winter wheat

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