Land quality indicators for sustainable land management: Proposed method for yield gap and soil nutrient balance

P.S. Bindraban, J.J. Stoorvogel, D.M. Jansen, J. Vlaming, J.J.R. Groot

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


The required increase in agricultural production to meet future food demand will further increase pressure on land resources. Integrative indicators of the current status of the agricultural production capacity of land and their change over time are needed for promoting land management practices to maintain or improve land productivity and a sustainable use of natural resources. It is argued that such land quality indicators should be obtained with a holistic systems-oriented approach. Two land quality indicators are elaborated that deal with (1) yield gaps, i.e. the difference of actual yield and yield obtained under optimum management practices, or yields determined by the land-based natural resources, and (2) a soil nutrient balance, i.e. the rate with which soil fertility is changing. The yield gap is based on the calculation of land-based cereal productivity at three different levels in terms of potential, water limited, and nutrient limited production, considering weather, soil and crop characteristics. These modelled production levels do not incorporate socio-economic aspects, which may impede agricultural management in its effort to release stress because of inadequate soil fertility, water availability and/or occurrence of pests and diseases. Therefore, location specific actual yield levels are also considered. Besides an evaluation of the actual status of the land, it is important to consider the rate of change. The quantification of changes in soil nutrient stocks is crucial to identify problematic land use systems. The soil nutrient balance, i.e. the net difference between gross inputs and outputs of nutrients to the system, is used as measure for the changes. The indicator for the soil nutrient balance combines this rate of soil nutrient change and the soil nutrient stock. Indicators for yield gaps and soil nutrient balances are defined, procedures for their quantification are described and their general applicability is discussed.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)103-112
JournalAgriculture Ecosystems & Environment
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2000
Externally publishedYes


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