About 0·10 of the food supply in China is produced in rice–wheat (RW) cropping systems. In recent decades, nitrogen (N) input associated with intensification has increased much more rapidly than N use in these systems. The resulting nitrogen surplus increases the risk of environmental pollution as well as production costs. Limited information on N dynamics in RW systems in relation to water management hampers development of management practices leading to more efficient use of nitrogen and water. The present work studied the effects of N and water management on yields of rice and wheat, and nitrogen use efficiencies (NUEs) in RW systems. A RW field experiment with nitrogen rates from 0 to 300 kg N/ha with continuously flooded and intermittently irrigated rice crops was carried out at the Jiangpu experimental station of Nanjing Agricultural University of China from 2002 to 2004 to identify improved nitrogen management practices in terms of land productivity and NUE.
Nitrogen uptake by rice and wheat increased with increasing N rates, while agronomic NUE (kg grain/kg N applied) declined at rates exceeding 150 kg N/ha. The highest combined grain yields of rice and wheat were obtained at 150 and 300 kg N/ha per season in rice and wheat, respectively. Carry-over of residual N from rice to the subsequent wheat crop was limited, consistent with low soil nitrate after rice harvest. Total soil N hardly changed during the experiment, while soil nitrate was much lower after wheat than after rice harvest. Water management did not affect yield and N uptake by rice, but apparent N recovery was higher under intermittent irrigation (II). In one season, II management in rice resulted in higher yield and N uptake in the subsequent wheat season. Uptake of indigenous soil N was much higher in rice than in wheat, while in rice it was much higher than values reported in the literature, which may have consequences for nitrogen fertilizer recommendations based on indigenous N supply.