Improving Nutrient Use Efficiency


Abstract: Public interest and awareness of the need for improving nutrient use efficiency is great, but nutrient use efficiency is easily misunderstood. Four indices of nutrient use efficiency are reviewed and an example of different applications of the terminology show that the same data set might be used to calculate a fertilizer N efficiency of 21% or 100%. Fertilizer N recovery efficiencies from researcher managed experiments for major grain crops range from 46% to 65%, compared to on-farm N recovery efficiencies of 20% to 40%. Fertilizer use efficiency can be optimized by fertilizer best management practices that apply nutrients at the right rate, time, and place. The highest nutrient use efficiency always occurs at the lower parts of the yield response curve, where fertilizer inputs are lowest, but effectiveness of fertilizers in increasing crop yields and optimizing farmer profitability should not be sacrificed for the sake of efficiency alone. There must be a balance between optimal nutrient use efficiency and optimal crop productivity.

Keywords: Fertilizer best management practices, BMPs, balanced fertilization, nitrogen efficiency, right rate, right time, right place

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