50 year trends in nitrogen use efficiency of world cropping systems: the relationship between yield and nitrogen input to cropland
Nitrogen (N) is crucial for crop productivity. However, nowadays more than half of the N added to cropland is lost to the environment, wasting the resource, producing threats to air, water, soil and biodiversity, and generating greenhouse gas emissions. Based on FAO data, we have reconstructed the trajectory followed, in the past 50 years, by 124 countries in terms of crop yield and total nitrogen inputs to cropland (manure, synthetic fertilizer, symbiotic fixation and atmospheric deposition). During the last five decades, the response of agricultural systems to increased nitrogen fertilization has evolved differently in the different world countries. While some countries have improved their agro-environmental performances, in others the increased fertilization has produced low agronomical benefits and higher environmental losses. Our data also suggest that, in general, those countries using a higher proportion of N inputs from symbiotic N fixation rather than from synthetic fertilizer have a better N use efficiency.