Changes in agricultural nitrogen (N) balance of OECD countries and its causes and impacts

authored by
Ji Yeon Lim, Hyeon Ji Song, Gil Won Kim, Pil Joo Kim

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) developed soil surface nutrient balance and made it mandatory for member countries to report annual nutrient budgets since 1990. This study aimed to evaluate the status of nitrogen (N) management in member countries and to figure out why N surplus levels differ across countries and how they relate to other agri-environmental indicators, by analyzing the N budgets from 35 OECD countries over the last 30 years. Of the three factors determining N balance (agricultural land area, N input, and N output), agricultural land area decreased in most OECD countries, negatively affecting N balance reduction. However, OECD's average N balance highly decreased from 91 to 46 kg ha−1 over the last 30 years due to the decrease in N input through inorganic fertilizers and manure, especially in EU countries with high N input levels, while N output did not meaningfully change. In comparison, in Japan and Korea, the N balance slightly increased and they became the highest N balance country recently. A higher N balance led to lower N use efficiency and higher ammonia (NH3) and nitrous oxide (N2O) emission intensities. More densely populated countries with smaller agricultural land per capita (ranging from 0.03 to 0.47 ha capita−1) showed a higher N balance (228–80 kg ha−1), presumably due to higher N input for more agricultural production on limited land. The most densely populated countries among OECD members (Belgium, the Netherlands, Korea, and Japan) had similar N input levels. However, two EU countries had much higher N output than two Asian countries due to higher pasture production, which led to a lower N balance and higher N use efficiency. Therefore, highly populated countries with small arable land areas per capita might need multilateral efforts to alleviate agricultural N balance.

Institute of Microbiology
External Organisation(s)
Gyeongsang National University
Journal of Environmental Management
No. of pages
Publication date
Publication status
Peer reviewed
ASJC Scopus subject areas
Environmental Engineering, Waste Management and Disposal, Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law
Sustainable Development Goals
SDG 2 - Zero Hunger
Electronic version(s) (Access: Closed)