Lessons from temporal and spatial patterns in global use of N and P fertilizer on cropland

Bouwman, A.F.; Beusen, A.H.W.; Lassaletta, L.; Van Apeldoorn, D.F.; Van Grinsven, H.J.M.; Zhang, J.; van Ittersum, Martin


In recent decades farmers in high-income countries and China and India have built up a large reserve of residual soil P in cropland. This reserve can now be used by crops, and in high-income countries the use of mineral P fertilizer has recently been decreasing with even negative soil P budgets in Europe. In contrast to P, much of N surpluses are emitted to the environment via air and water and large quantities of N are transported in aquifers with long travel times (decades and longer). N fertilizer use in high-income countries has not been decreasing in recent years; increasing N use efficiency and utilization of accumulated residual soil P allowed continued increases in crop yields. However, there are ecological risks associated with the legacy of excessive nutrient mobilization in the 1970s and 1980s. Landscapes have a memory for N and P; N concentrations in many rivers do not respond to increased agricultural N use efficiency, and European water quality is threatened by rapidly increasing N:P ratios. Developing countries can avoid such problems by integrated management of N, P and other nutrients accounting for residual soil P, while avoiding legacies associated with the type of past or continuing mismanagement of high-income countries, China and India.