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The role of chemical and organic fertilizers on yield, yield variability and carbon sequestration— results of a 19-year experiment


Fertilization practice in the North China Plain has been changing since the late 1970s. To evaluate how organic and chemical fertilizers contribute to yield, yield variability and soil carbon sequestration, we analyzed wheat (Triticum aestivum L.) yield data in a long-term fertilization experiment that began in 1989, conducted pot experiments using soils from the long-term fertilization experiment plots, and simulated the soil organic carbon (SOC) dynamics of individual treatments in the long-term experiments. Wheat yield results showed that when organic fertilizer was used as an alternative nutrient source for chemical fertilizers, it was neither directly beneficial to crop yield, nor decreased yield variability when compared to a balanced chemical fertilizer. However, there was a linear relationship between yield trend and SOC change rate (r = 0.951, P < 0.01). The use of organic fertilizer increased SOC and soil fertility and consequently resulted in a larger yield trend when compared to a balanced chemical fertilizer. Roth-C model simulation and pot experimental results indicated that soils with higher SOC had a higher root/shoot ratio. Therefore, the long-term use of organic fertilizer not only directly increases SOC, but indirectly contributes to carbon sequestration by favoring root development. We found that yield variability was determined by the relative contributions of soil fertility and fertilizer to yield (the contribution of fertilizer to yield is the yield difference between fertilized and unfertilized treatments). The contribution of balanced chemical fertilizer to yield was higher than that of organic fertilizer, resulting in less yield variability in balanced chemical fertilizer treatment. However, if organic fertilizer was used as a complementary nutrient source with chemical fertilizers, it would increase the contribution of fertilizers to yield, thus decreasing yield variability.

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This research was funded by the Knowledge Innovation Program of the Chinese Academy of Science (Project No: kzcx2-yw-312, kzcx2-yw-406-2).

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Correspondence to Xiaoyuan Yan.

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Yan, X., Gong, W. The role of chemical and organic fertilizers on yield, yield variability and carbon sequestration— results of a 19-year experiment. Plant Soil 331, 471–480 (2010).

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  • Long-term experiment
  • Yield variability
  • Yield trend
  • Roth-C model
  • Carbon sequestration