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Factors influencing farmers’ decisions on nitrogen fertilizer application in the Liangzihu Lake basin, Central China

Abstract

Overuse of nitrogen (N) fertilizers in agriculture activities has caused severe water pollution in China. The lack of data at producer level hampers decision makers in the development and implementation of efficient policies to curb excessive N-fertilizer use. In a survey of 300 farm households in the Liangzihu Lake basin, we identified factors associated with farmers’ decisions on N-fertilizer use and application rate. Household survey and multiple linear regression models indicate that the average application rate in the study region is 229 kg N ha−1, which exceeds the recommended rate for maximum profit for cereal crops (maize, wheat, and rice) in China of 150–180 kg N ha−1. High N-application rates are associated with low farmland productivity (coefficient = −15.66, p = 0.02), a high share of off-farm income (coefficient = 27.14, p = 0.003), and a low education level of the household head (coefficient = −10.83, p = 0.039). Neither physical infrastructure nor access to input markets appears to be related to N-application rates. It may be concluded that excessive use of N in agriculture of Central China is mainly a problem of insufficient awareness and high share of off-farm income.

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Notes

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    Average currency exchange rate 2012: 1 US $ = 6.3125 yuan.

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Acknowledgments

The authors are grateful to the survey team members who supported the data collection. Thanks also to Guido Lüchters from the Center for Development Research (ZEF), Bonn University, for his excellent assistance in the statistical analysis. This work was financially supported by Fiat Panis Foundation Dr. Hermann Eiselen Ph.D. Grant through Center for Development Research (ZEF) and the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) through an IPSWaT scholarship, by the Chinese Administration of Science and Technology through the National Science and Technology Program for benefiting people (S2013GMD100042), as well as by the Natural Science Foundation of Hubei Province (2014CFB545).

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Correspondence to Jin Zhang.

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Zhang, J., Manske, G., Zhou, P.Q. et al. Factors influencing farmers’ decisions on nitrogen fertilizer application in the Liangzihu Lake basin, Central China. Environ Dev Sustain 19, 791–805 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10668-016-9765-z

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Keywords

  • Chemical fertilizer
  • Farmers’ behaviour
  • Fertilizer management
  • Nitrate pollution
  • Overuse