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Sustainability Evaluation of the Maize–Soybean Intercropping System and Maize Monocropping System in the North China Plain Based on Field Experiments

1
College of Agronomy, China Agricultural University, Beijing 100193, China
2
Institute on the Environment, University of Minnesota, St. Paul, MN 55108, USA
3
College of Agronomy, South China Agricultural University, Guangzhou 510642, China
4
Crop Research Institute, Shandong Academy of Agricultural Sciences, Jinan 250100, China
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Agronomy 2018, 8(11), 268; https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy8110268
Received: 20 September 2018 / Revised: 28 October 2018 / Accepted: 12 November 2018 / Published: 19 November 2018
Monocropping systems, which currently dominate China’s major grain production regions, contribute to resource scarcity and environmental pollution. Intercropping has the potential to improve resource use efficiency. However, prior studies of intercropping systems have generally focused on ecological, economic, and social consequences. Here, we make a comparative ecological sustainability analysis on energy capture and efficiency of maize monocropping and maize–soybean intercropping systems through emergy evaluation based on field experiments performed from 2012 to 2014. We find that maize monocropping shows higher sustainability than maize–soybean intercropping in the North China Plain at present. Quantitative results indicate that for maize monocropping, the emergy yield ratio (EYR) and emergy sustainability index (ESI) are 13.7% and 21.1% higher than that of intercropping systems, and the environmental loading ratio (ELR) is 7.3% lower than that of intercropping systems. To further test, we applied three levels of nitrogen fertilizer in intercropping systems (120 kg ha−1, 180 kg ha−1, 240 kg ha−1), and find that a reduced rate of N fertilizer for intercropped system leads to higher sustainability (ESI 5.3% higher) but still lower sustainability than maize monocropping. Key drivers of the different sustainability outcomes are decreased energy output and a larger proportion of labor input associated with intercropping systems. View Full-Text
Keywords: emergy; maize monocropping; maize–soybean intercropping; sustainability; the North China Plain emergy; maize monocropping; maize–soybean intercropping; sustainability; the North China Plain
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Yang, X.; Sui, P.; Shen, Y.; Gerber, J.S.; Wang, D.; Wang, X.; Dai, H.; Chen, Y. Sustainability Evaluation of the Maize–Soybean Intercropping System and Maize Monocropping System in the North China Plain Based on Field Experiments. Agronomy 2018, 8, 268.

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