Environmental Science and Pollution Research

, Volume 25, Issue 31, pp 31007–31016 | Cite as

Nitrate leaching from open-field and greenhouse vegetable systems in China: a meta-analysis

  • Xiaozhong Wang
  • Chunqin Zou
  • Xiaopeng Gao
  • Xilin Guan
  • Yueqiang Zhang
  • Xiaojun Shi
  • Xinping ChenEmail author
Research Article


The potential for nitrate leaching in Chinese vegetable systems is substantial because of high inputs of nitrogen (N) fertilizer and water. To quantify the nitrate leaching and identify the key controlling factors in Chinese vegetable systems, we conducted a meta-analysis that included 221 data sets from 18 field studies. The results revealed that nitrate leaching over the entire crop growing season in Chinese vegetable systems was very high and averaged 79.1 kg N ha−1 and primarily resulted from extremely high N fertilizer inputs (in average 423 kg N ha−1). Nitrate leaching was, on the average, 63.9% greater in the greenhouse systems (98.0 kg N ha−1) than in open-field systems (59.8 kg N ha−1). The leaching factor, defined as the proportion of the quantity of N applied to soils that was lost due to nitrate leaching, averaged 14.6% overall and was significantly lower in greenhouse systems (10.9%) than in open-field systems (18.4%). This difference appears to be due to lower of the total water inputs (irrigation + precipitation) in greenhouse systems. Nitrate leaching increased with water input, the number of growing days, and the N rate. The nitrate leaching response to increasing N rate was linear. The leaching factor significantly increased with water input but was not affected by the N rate or the number of growing days. Compared with application of synthetic fertilizer alone, the application of manure alone or manure plus synthetic fertilizer significantly reduced both the nitrate leaching and the leaching factor in open-field and greenhouse systems. These results suggest that nitrate leaching in Chinese vegetable systems can be reduced by optimizing rates of N and water supply to synchronize crop needs. Application of mixed synthetic N fertilizer and manure is more effective in reducing nitrate leaching, compared to synthetic N only.


Leaching factor N rate Water input Growth season Fertilizer type 





synthetic N fertilizer alone


manure N fertilizer alone


mixed with synthetic and manure N fertilizer.



We would like to thank Professor Russell Yost from the Department of Tropical Soils and Plant Sciences, University of Hawaii, USA, for revising the scientific English.


This research was jointly supported by the National Key Research and Development Program of China (No.2017YFD0800403); the Changjiang Scholarship, Ministry of Education, China; and the CAU-SIERTE cooperation project.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

11356_2018_3082_MOESM1_ESM.docx (38 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 37 kb)


  1. Basso B, Ritchie JT (2005) Impact of compost, manure and inorganic fertilizer on nitrate leaching and yield for a 6-year maize–alfalfa rotation in Michigan. Agric Ecosyst Environ 108:329–341CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Benoit M, Garnier J, Anglade J, Billen G (2014) Nitrate leaching from organic and conventional arable crop farms in the Seine Basin (France). Nutr Cycl Agroecosyst 100:285–299CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Benoit M, Garnier J, Billen G, Tournebize J, Gréhan E, Mary B (2015) Nitrous oxide emissions and nitrate leaching in an organic and a conventional cropping system (Seine basin, France). Agric Ecosyst Environ 213:131–141CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Brumm I, Schenk M (1992) Influence of nitrogen supply on the occurrence of calcium deficiency in field grown lettuce. Acta Hortic 339:125–136Google Scholar
  5. Cameron KC, Di HJ, Moir JL (2013) Nitrogen losses from the soil/plant system: a review. Ann Appl Biol 162:145–173CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Cassman KG, Dobermann A, Walters DT (2002) Agroecosystems, nitrogen-use efficiency, and nitrogen management. Ambio 31:132–140CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Chang J, Wu X, Liu A, Wang Y, Xu B, Yang W, Meyerson LA, Gu BJ, Ge Y (2011) Assessment of net ecosystem services of plastic greenhouse vegetable cultivation in China. Ecol Econ 70:740–748CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Chen Q, Zhang X, Zhang H, Christie P, Li X, Horlacher D, Liebig HP (2004) Evaluation of current fertilizer practice and soil fertility in vegetable production in the Beijing region. Nutr Cycl Agroecosyst 69:51–58CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Coelho B, Roy RC (1999) Enhanced ammonium sources to reduce nitrate leaching. Nutr Cycl Agroecosyst 54:73–80CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Cui ZL, Wang GL, Yue SC, Wu L, Zhang WF, Zhang FS, Chen XP (2014) Closing the N-use efficiency gap to achieve food and environmental security. Environ Sci Technol 48:5780–5787CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Di HJ, Cameron KC (2002) Nitrate leaching in temperate agroecosystems: sources, factors and mitigating strategies. Nutr Cycl Agroecosyst 64:237–256CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Fang Q, Yu Q, Wang E, Chen Y, Zhang G, Wang J, Li L (2006) Soil nitrate accumulation, leaching and crop nitrogen use as influenced by fertilization and irrigation in an intensive wheat- maize double cropping system in the North China Plain. Plant Soil 284:335–350CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. FAO (2014) FAOSTAT database—resources. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, RomeGoogle Scholar
  14. Gheysari M, Mirlatifi SM, Homaee M, Asadi ME, Hoogenboom G (2009) Nitrate leaching in a silage maize field under different irrigation and nitrogen fertilizer rates. Agric Water Manag 96:946–954CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Guo SR, Sun J, Shu S, Lu XM, Tian J, Wang JW (2012) Analysis of general situation, characteristics, existing problems and development trend of protected horticulture in China. China Veg 18:1–14 (In Chinese with English abstract)Google Scholar
  16. He FF, Chen Q, Jiang RF, Chen XP, Zhang FS (2007) Yield and nitrogen balance of greenhouse tomato (Lycopersicum esculentum Mill.) with conventional and site-specific nitrogen management in Northern China. Nutr Cycl Agroecosyst 77:1–14CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Hedges LV, Gurevitch J, Curtis PS (1999) The meta-analysis of response ratios in experimental ecology. Ecology 80:1150–1156CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Ju XT, Kou CL, Zhang FS, Christie P (2006) Nitrogen balance and groundwater nitrate contamination: comparison among three intensive cropping systems on the North China Plain. Environ Pollut 143:117–125CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Kruskal WH, Wallis WA (1952) Use of ranks in one-criterion variance analysis. J Am Stat Assoc 47:583–621CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Lin BL, Sakoda A, Shibasaki R, Suzuki M (2001) A modelling approach to global nitrate leaching caused by anthropogenic fertilisation. Water Res 35:1961–1968CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Liu S, Lin F, Wu S, Ji C, Sun Y, Jin Y, Li S, Li Z, Zou J (2016) A meta-analysis of fertilizer-induced soil NO and combined NO+N2O emissions. Glob Chang Biol 23:2520–2532CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Liu Q, Qin Y, Zou J, Guo Y, Gao Z (2013) Annual nitrous oxide emissions from open-air and greenhouse vegetable cropping systems in China. Plant Soil 370:223–233CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Perego A, Basile A, Bonfante A, De Mascellis R, Terribile F, Brenna S, Acutis M (2012) Nitrate leaching under maize cropping systems in Po Valley (Italy). Agric Ecosyst Environ 147:57–65CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Quemada M, Baranski M, Mnj NL, Vallejo A, Cooper JM (2013) Meta-analysis of strategies to control nitrate leaching in irrigated agricultural systems and their effects on crop yield. Agric Ecosyst Environ 174:1–10CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Shcherbak I, Millar N, Robertson GP (2014) Global metaanalysis of the nonlinear response of soil nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions to fertilizer nitrogen. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 111:9199–9204CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Song XZ, Zhao CX, Wang XL, Li J (2009) Study of nitrate leaching and nitrogen fate under intensive vegetable production pattern in northern China. C R Biol 332:385–392CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Tang Z, Qiu JJ, Zou GY, Wang LG (2010) Effects of different water and organic fertilizer managements on the N balance and nitrate leaching in sunlight greenhouse system. Soil Ferti China 1:19–24 (In Chinese with English abstract)Google Scholar
  28. Ti C, Luo Y, Yan X (2015) Characteristics of nitrogen balance in open-air and greenhouse vegetable cropping systems of China. Environ Sci Pollut Res Int 22:18508–18518CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Wang XZ, Zou CQ, Gao XP, Guan XL, Zhang WS, Zhang YQ, Shi XJ, Chen XP (2018) Direct nitrous oxide emissions in Chinese vegetable systems: a meta-analysis. Environ Pollut 239:375–383CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Wu L, Zhang WF, Chen XP, Cui ZL, Fan MS, Chen Q, Zhang FS (2016) Nitrogen fertilizer input and nitrogen use efficiency in Chinese farmland. Chinese J Soil Fert Sci 4:76–83 (In Chinese with English abstract)Google Scholar
  31. Zhang X, Davidson EA, Mauzerall DL, Searchinger TD, Dumas P, Shen Y (2015) Managing nitrogen for sustainable development. Nature 528:51–59Google Scholar
  32. Zhang BG, Li Q, Cao J, Zhang CY, Zhao S, Zhang FS, Chen XP (2017) Reducing nitrogen leaching in a subtropical vegetable system. Agric Ecosyst Environ 241:133–141CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Zhou M, Butterbach-Bahl K (2014) Assessment of nitrate leaching loss on a yield-scaled basis from maize and wheat cropping systems. Plant Soil 374:977–991CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Zhou JY, Gu BJ, Schlesinger WH, Ju XT (2016) Significant accumulation of nitrate in Chinese semi-humid croplands. Sci Rep 6:25088CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.College of Resources and EnvironmentSouthwest UniversityChongqingChina
  2. 2.Academy of Agricultural SciencesSouthwest UniversityChongqingChina
  3. 3.Center for Resources, Environment and Food SecurityChina Agricultural UniversityBeijingChina
  4. 4.State Key Laboratory of Desert and Oasis Ecology, Xinjiang Institute of Ecology and GeographyChinese Academy of SciencesUrumqiChina

Personalised recommendations