Next Article in Journal
Design of an Optimal Waste Utilization System: A Case Study in St. Petersburg, Russia
Next Article in Special Issue
Open-Pollinated vs. Hybrid Maize Cultivars
Previous Article in Journal
Strengthening Sovereignty: Security and Sustainability in an Era of Climate Change
Previous Article in Special Issue
Undergraduate Sustainable Learning: Effects of Sustainable Soilless Media on Production and Sensory Evaluation of Cucumbers, Basil, Parsley, and Lettuce
Article Menu

Export Article

Open AccessArticle

Improving Nitrogen Use Efficiency in Crops for Sustainable Agriculture

Adaptation des Plantes à leur Environnement. Unité de Recherche 511, Institut Jean-Pierre Bourgin, Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique, Centre de Versailles-Grignon, R.D. 10, F-78026 Versailles Cedex, France
Agrophysiologie, Ecophysiologie et Biologie Intégrative, A3900-AEB, Université de Picardie, 33 rue Saint Leu, F-80039 Amiens, France
Lancaster Environment Centre, Lancaster University, Lancaster, LA1 4YQ, UK
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Sustainability 2011, 3(9), 1452-1485;
Received: 4 May 2011 / Revised: 5 August 2011 / Accepted: 17 August 2011 / Published: 7 September 2011
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Plant Breeding for Sustainable Agriculture)
PDF [797 KB, uploaded 24 February 2015]


In this review, we present the recent developments and future prospects of improving nitrogen use efficiency (NUE) in crops using various complementary approaches. These include conventional breeding and molecular genetics, in addition to alternative farming techniques based on no-till continuous cover cropping cultures and/or organic nitrogen (N) nutrition. Whatever the mode of N fertilization, an increased knowledge of the mechanisms controlling plant N economy is essential for improving NUE and for reducing excessive input of fertilizers, while maintaining an acceptable yield and sufficient profit margin for the farmers. Using plants grown under agronomic conditions, with different tillage conditions, in pure or associated cultures, at low and high N mineral fertilizer input, or using organic fertilization, it is now possible to develop further whole plant agronomic and physiological studies. These can be combined with gene, protein and metabolite profiling to build up a comprehensive picture depicting the different steps of N uptake, assimilation and recycling to produce either biomass in vegetative organs or proteins in storage organs. We provide a critical overview as to how our understanding of the agro-ecophysiological, physiological and molecular controls of N assimilation in crops, under varying environmental conditions, has been improved. We have used combined approaches, based on agronomic studies, whole plant physiology, quantitative genetics, forward and reverse genetics and the emerging systems biology. Long-term sustainability may require a gradual transition from synthetic N inputs to legume-based crop rotation, including continuous cover cropping systems, where these may be possible in certain areas of the world, depending on climatic conditions. Current knowledge and prospects for future agronomic development and application for breeding crops adapted to lower mineral fertilizer input and to alternative farming techniques are explored, whilst taking into account the constraints of both the current world economic situation and the environment. View Full-Text
Keywords: agriculture; cover cropping; conservation tillage; fertilizers; genetics; nitrogen; green manure; agro-biodiversity, sustainability agriculture; cover cropping; conservation tillage; fertilizers; genetics; nitrogen; green manure; agro-biodiversity, sustainability
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY 3.0).

Share & Cite This Article

MDPI and ACS Style

Hirel, B.; Tétu, T.; Lea, P.J.; Dubois, F. Improving Nitrogen Use Efficiency in Crops for Sustainable Agriculture. Sustainability 2011, 3, 1452-1485.

Show more citation formats Show less citations formats

Related Articles

Article Metrics

Article Access Statistics



[Return to top]
Sustainability EISSN 2071-1050 Published by MDPI AG, Basel, Switzerland RSS E-Mail Table of Contents Alert
Back to Top