Most farmers in China farm less than an acre with their families, Sims says, and many receive subsidized nitrogen and phosphorus fertilizer from the government, which they apply to crops by hand.
Sims says this smallholder organization makes educating hundreds of millions of people about how to properly use fertilizer—without an extension service—one of the root issues.
Zhang agrees, adding that better technology and knowledge transfer from research to practice is one of the key answers to China's challenges.
"Various nutrient management concepts and technologies have been developed and tested to some extent, especially in crop production," he says. "However, adoption of these concepts and technologies is still negligible because of social and cultural barriers."
Zhang says there is a bit of movement, however, because the influence of feed and fertilizer industries, universities, and research institutes has been growing since the economic reforms of the 1980s.
He and Sims now hope that as word spreads through conferences and research publications about the issues China faces in animal, crop, and vegetable production that change can begin happening more quickly, especially in the policy arena. China's experience may also spur policy discussions elsewhere.
"The food production and environmental lessons learned in China during this 40-year transition period we believe have value to other nations with emerging economies that are struggling to balance food security and environmental quality," Zhang says.
Access the abstracts of the special collection papers below.
An Analysis of Developments and Challenges in Nutrient Management in China
The Driving Forces for Nitrogen and Phosphorus Flows in the Food Chain of China, 1980 to 2010
Nitrogen and Phosphorus Use Efficiencies in Dairy Production in China
An Analysis of China's Fertilizer Policies: Impacts on the Industry, Food Security, and the Environment
Phosphorus in China's Intensive Vegetable Production Systems: Overfertilization, Soil Enrichment, and Environmental Implications
News source: American Society of Agronomy