Optimal nitrogen rate strategy for sustainable rice production in China

Date:Feb 23, 2023

Fig. 1: Schematic illustration of the research workflow.
Fig. 2: Key area-based performance responses to different N application strategies in different subregions of China.
Fig. 3: Performance of different N application strategies for different subregions under planting areas in 2018.Avoiding excessive agricultural nitrogen (N) use without compromising yields has long been a priority for both research and government policy in China. Although numerous rice-related strategies have been proposed, few studies have assessed their impacts on national food self-sufficiency and environmental sustainability and fewer still have considered economic risks faced by millions of smallholders. Here we established an optimal N rate strategy based on maximizing either economic (ON) or ecological (EON) performance using new subregion-specific models. Using an extensive on-farm dataset, we then assessed the risk of yield losses among smallholder farmers and the challenges of implementing the optimal N rate strategy. We find that meeting national rice production targets in 2030 is possible while concurrently reducing nationwide N consumption by 10% (6–16%) and 27% (22–32%), mitigating reactive N (Nr) losses by 7% (3–13%) and 24% (19–28%) and increasing N-use efficiency by 30% (3–57%) and 36% (8–64%) for ON and EON, respectively. This study identifies and targets subregions with disproportionate environmental impacts and proposes N rate strategies to limit national Nr pollution below proposed environmental thresholds, without compromising soil N stocks or economic benefits for smallholders. Thereafter, the preferable N strategy is allocated to each region based on the trade-off between economic risk and environmental benefit. To facilitate the adoption of the annually revised subregional N rate strategy, several recommendations were provided, including a monitoring network, fertilization quotas and smallholder subsidies.Read More: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-022-05678-xSource: nature

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