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Increase yield by 10%, cut nitrogen by a fifth, make £9bn – find out how at REAP

A decade-long trial involving 21 million Chinese smallholders has shown it is possible to significantly improve crop yields while cutting use of nitrogen fertiliser by almost a fifth.

Zhenling Cui integrated soil-crop system management

Community involvement was a big part of the success behind Zhenling Cui’s integrated soil-crop system management project

The results provide strong evidence that a bespoke integrated soil-crop system management (ISSM) programme, developed by Cui Zhenling and his team at the China Agricultural University, is robust and versatile enough to support agricultural strategies that both enhance productivity and environmental performance.

To enable China to continue to feed its 1.4 billion population, while reducing the detrimental impact that food production was having on the environment, a new approach was required.

Cui Zhenling explains: “We first gathered the results of 13,123 field trials conducted on maize, rice and wheat farms across China’s vast agroecological zones to test the applicability of a comprehensive decision-support ISSM. The framework appeared to suit these needs.”

With data from the field trials, Cui’s project team developed evidence-based advice that was adapted for local conditions and given to farmers. “We developed crop model simulations for optimal use of solar and thermal resources in a given region and then, according to soil tests and the needs of specific crops, were able to combine a formula of nutrients and water to support individual crop strategies,” he says.

REAP looking at competitive sustainable production 

Cui Zhenling is providing a keynote at this year’s Agri-Tech REAP Conference.  The conference will be looking at how agri-tech innovation can support competitive sustainable food production.

The study, which was published in leading scientific journal Nature, is one of the most expansive studies into food production involving almost 200,000 collaborators, extension agents and agribusiness personnel in addition to 20.9 million smallholders.

The project’s decade of data shows an overall yield improvement of 10.8% – 11.5% and a reduction in the use of nitrogen fertilisers of between 14.7% – 18.1% per crop, when comparing ISSM based interventions and the prevailing practices of the farmers.

Agri sector £9 billion better off

Commenting on the outcome of the study, Cui says: “Production and environmental outcomes from the national campaign were positive, in line with expectations. In practice, the study led to a net increase of 33 megatonnes of grains and a decrease in use of 1.2 megatonnes of nitrogen fertiliser – equivalent to China’s agricultural sector being over £9billion better off.”

Cui Zhenling will be sharing his insight at Agri-Tech East’s REAP Conference debate, held on Wednesday 7 November 2018 at Wellcome Genome Campus Conference Centre, Hinxton, Cambridge, CB10 1RQ.

REAP 2018