Soils, crop nutrient status and nutrient dynamics on small-holder farms in central Tibet, China

Abstract

Little is known about the soils that support agriculture in Tibet. The aim of this paper is to investigate the physical and chemical properties of Tibet’s agricultural soils, the nutritional status of wheat (Triticum aestivum L.) and barley (Hordeum vulgare L.) crops, and the sustainability of current soil management practices. Physical descriptions of Tibet’s agricultural soils were based on soil pits dug at three locations across Tibet’s agricultural zone. Chemical analyses were conducted on soils from seven sites across the zone. Nutritional constraints to agriculture were identified through leaf tissue tests on wheat and barley crops from 23 fields. These results, combined with published information on farm inputs and yields, provided insight into the sustainability of current nutrient practice. Soils were found to be silty or sandy clay loams with alkaline reaction, low organic content and low K and Zn status. Leaf analysis revealed one third to one half of cereal crops were marginal or deficient for K, Zn and Mg. Most farmers export grain and import only nitrogenous and phosphatic fertilizers leading to a nutrient imbalance. A balanced fertilizer program is required to halt nutrient depletion and increase grain production. Reduced tillage and crop residue retention are needed to improve soil health.

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Acknowledgements

This work was supported by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research. Samantha Grover was supported in Tibet by the Australian Youth Ambassadors for Development scheme.

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Correspondence to Nicholas G. Paltridge.

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Responsible Editor: Hans Lambers.

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Paltridge, N.G., Grover, S.P.P., Gouyi, L. et al. Soils, crop nutrient status and nutrient dynamics on small-holder farms in central Tibet, China. Plant Soil 348, 219–229 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11104-011-0859-y

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Keywords

  • Agriculture
  • Wheat
  • Barley
  • Potassium
  • Zinc
  • Magnesium