The anthropogenic production of nitrogen fertilizers requires elevated energy inputs (Leinonen et al., 2019) and, in recent decades, there has been a worldwide increase in the production of these fertilizers by almost fivefold (Battye et al., 2017). According to FAO (2019), more than 109 million tonnes of nitrogen fertilizers were used for agricultural and livestock production in 2017. The importance of using nitrogen fertilizers in agriculture is due to its fundamental roles in plants growth (Van Raij, 2011; Leghari et al., 2016), in addition to being the most limiting nutrient in crop systems, due to its high exportation in crops (Leghari et al., 2016). However, the non-rational use of nitrogen in agricultural production systems can compromise crops’ yield and cause environmental and soil damages (Galindo et al., 2022).
Reaching an equilibrium of nutrients in agriculture and livestock production systems is a challenge (Leinonen et al., 2019). Therefore, adopting systems that integrate both activities could represent a more sustainable alternative to conventional systems, seen that a synergistic interaction between systems can be achieved, thus optimizing the use of fertilizers when producing goods.
Recent research have demonstrated the benefits of integrated systems in comparison to conventional ones, such as nutrient cycling (Alves et al., 2019; Maia et al., 2021; Bansal et al., 2022), the acquisition of more than one product per unit of area (Carvalho et al., 2018), improvements of soil properties (Bansal et al., 2022), reductions in the use of fertilizers (Alves et al., 2019) and sharing of inputs between crops (Mendonça et al., 2020). Over the years, it was possible to observe a synergism among the soil-plant-animal components of production systems, due to a greater nutrient cycling caused by the presence of animals (Rakkar et al., 2017), thus contributing for the reduction on the use of synthetic fertilizers. The implementation of Integrated Crop-Livestock Systems (ICLS) can be carried out via intercropping, between grain-producing crops and pastures for cattle production, which can be presented in assembled arrangements, in function of species, spacing and planting techniques (Portilho et al., 2018). Sowing methods and the consortium between species can affect soil quality (Portilho et al., 2018) and possible the nutrient balance (NB) and nutrient use efficiency (NUE), which are well-known approaches used for nutrients management in agricultural and livestock systems (Gerber et al., 2014; Leinonen et al., 2019).
For instance, it is possible to estimate the deficit or surplus of nutrients using the NB (Mu et al., 2017), which, in a simplified way, is the different between nutrients inputs and outputs in the system (Rasmussen et al., 2011; Gourley et al., 2012; Mu et al., 2017). The NB is an agri-environmental indicator that helps monitoring the nutrient flow, contributing in a positive way for the rational use of mineral and organic fertilizers (Leinonen et al., 2019; OECD, 2022). Based on the NB data, the NUE is considered a dimensionless indicator, being calculated as the ratio between outputs and inputs of nutrients in a production system (Gerber et al., 2014).
The main components that determine both NB and NUE are the nutrients inputs and outputs in the system. However, there is little information regarding this study area, and in addition, the methodologies used to calculate the NB and NUE in systems are not standardized. The equilibrium between nitrogen inputs and outputs, as well as its transformations over time, are essential traits that provide adequate amounts of nutrients in production systems (Dubeux Jr. and Sollemberger, 2020).
According to Gerber et al. (2014) and Gameiro et al. (2018), the management of natural resources and nutrients flow are increasingly focused on the concept of food production efficiency. In relation to the agricultural system, this synergism and management is highly important, as at the same time, increase productivities and environmental sustainability.
In view of this scenario, the aim of this study was to use and evaluate NB and NUE as indicators for monitoring the use of nitrogen in integrated systems, in comparison to conventional systems of agricultural and livestock production. The indicators were also used to compare different sowing methods for the implementation of ICLS, aiming to evaluate if managements practices interfere in the NB and NUE. In addition, calculations were carried out to estimate the valuation of the organic residues generated in these systems. The hypothesis of the present study is the ICLS contributed positively for the balance and use efficiency the nitrogen, witch reduction on the use of synthetic fertilizers and, use of NB and NUE is efficient tool for the proper in the agricultural systems.