Plant and Soil

, Volume 374, Issue 1–2, pp 977–991 | Cite as

Assessment of nitrate leaching loss on a yield-scaled basis from maize and wheat cropping systems

  • Minghua Zhou
  • Klaus Butterbach-BahlEmail author
Review Article


Background and aims

It is so far a gap in knowledge to assess nitrate (NO3 ) leaching loss linking with crop yield for a given cereal cropping system.


We conducted a meta-analysis on 32 published studies reporting both NO3 leaching losses and crop yields in the maize (N = 20) and wheat (N = 12) systems.


On average, 22 % and 15 % of applied fertilizer N to wheat and maize systems worldwide are leached in the form of NO3 , respectively. The average area-scaled NO3 - leaching loss for maize (57.4 kg N ha−1) was approx. two times higher than for wheat (29.0 kg N ha−1). While, if scaled to crop yields, the average yield-scaled NO3 losses were comparable between maize (5.40 kg N Mg−1) and wheat (5.41 kg N Mg−1) systems. Across all sites, the lowest yield-scaled NO3 leaching losses were observed at slightly suboptimal fertilization rates, corresponding to 90 % and 96 % of maximum maize or wheat yields, respectively.


Our findings suggest that small adjustments of agricultural N management practices can effectively reduce yield-scaled NO3 leaching losses. However, further targeted field experiments are still needed to identify at regional scale best agricultural management practices for reducing yield-scaled NO3 leaching losses in maize and wheat systems.


NO3 leaching Yield-scaled Meta-analysis Cereal crops Sustainable intensification 



This study was gratefully supported by the Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant No. 41271321), the Helmholtz-CAS Joint Laboratory ENTRANCE and is part of the Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security programme (CCAFS) of CGIAR institutes.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Institute of Meteorology and Climate Research, Atmospheric Environmental Research (IMK-IFU)Garmisch-PartenkirchenGermany
  2. 2.International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI)NairobiKenya

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