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Sustainability 2018, 10(2), 363; https://doi.org/10.3390/su10020363

Factors Affecting Nitrogen Use Efficiency and Grain Yield of Summer Maize on Smallholder Farms in the North China Plain

1
College of Resources and Environmental Sciences, China Agricultural University, Beijing 100193, China
2
College of Resources and Environment Science, Hebei Agricultural University, Baoding 071001, Hebei, China
3
Agricultural Bureau of Laoling County, Dezhou 253600, Shandong, China
4
Department of Sustainable Agricultural Sciences, Rothamsted Research, Harpenden, Hertfordshire AL5 2JQ, UK
These authors contributed equally to this work.
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Received: 10 December 2017 / Revised: 19 January 2018 / Accepted: 23 January 2018 / Published: 31 January 2018
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Abstract

The summer maize yields and partial factor productivity of nitrogen (N) fertilizer (PFPN, grain yield per unit N fertilizer) on smallholder farms in China are low, and differ between farms due to complex, sub-optimal management practices. We collected data on management practices and yields from smallholder farms in three major summer maize-producing sites—Laoling, Quzhou and Xushui—in the North China Plain (NCP) for two growing seasons, during 2015–2016. Boundary line analysis and a Proc Mixed Model were used to evaluate the contribution of individual factors and their interactions. Summer maize grain yields and PFPN ranged from 6.6 t ha−1 to 14.2 t ha−1 and 15.4 kg kg−1 to 96.1 kg kg−1, respectively, and averaged 10.5 t ha−1 and 49.1 kg kg−1, respectively. The mean total yield gap and PFPN gap were 3.6 t ha−1 and 43.3 kg kg−1 in Laoling, 2.2 t ha−1 and 24.5 kg kg−1 in Xushui, and 2.8 t ha−1 and 41.1 kg kg−1 in Quzhou. A positive correlation was observed between the yield gap and PFPN gap; the PFPN gap could be reduced by 6.0 kg kg−1 (3.6–6.6 kg kg−1) by reducing the yield gap by 1 t ha−1. The high yield and high PFPN (HH) fields had a higher plant density and lower N fertilization rate than the low yield and low PFPN (LL) fields. Our results show that multiple management factors caused the yield gap, but the relative contribution of plant density is slightly higher than that of other management practices, such as N input, the sowing date, and potassium fertilizer input. The low PFPN was mainly attributed to an over-application of N fertilizer. To enhance the sustainable production of summer maize, the production gaps should be tackled through programs that guide smallholder farmers on the adoption of optimal management practices. View Full-Text
Keywords: summer maize; production constraints; sustainable; North China Plain summer maize; production constraints; sustainable; North China Plain
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Chen, G.; Cao, H.; Liang, J.; Ma, W.; Guo, L.; Zhang, S.; Jiang, R.; Zhang, H.; Goulding, K.W.T.; Zhang, F. Factors Affecting Nitrogen Use Efficiency and Grain Yield of Summer Maize on Smallholder Farms in the North China Plain. Sustainability 2018, 10, 363.

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