Published online on 5 September 2018.

One of the challenges of eco-efficient agriculture is the development of operational farming practices to increase the level of agricultural production, maximize the efficiency of resource use and reduce environmental impacts. Based on the efficiency frontier concept and the decomposition of resource use efficiency, we used a three-quadrant framework allowing to carry a functional analysis of the cropping system. Using a data envelope approach, we established boundary curves which represent the maximum achievable performances (yield, N uptake) when N is the only limiting factor. This framework has been first implemented and tested using published data from 112 agronomic situations of rainfed durum wheat (Triticum durum Desf.) in experimental fields in northern Syria and then further applied on a data set of 245 agronomic situations of durum wheat in farmers’ fields in two grain-producing regions of Tunisia. The results demonstrated the impact of preceding crops: durum wheat following legumes or vegetable showed a higher potential for N uptake but with only a minor effect on its conversion into grains. This positive effect of diversified rotation on potential N uptake by durum wheat is partly of-set by increased N uptake gaps in farmer’s fields indicating a higher effect of other limiting factors.