Keywords: Nitrate Directive, Water Framework Directive, Nitrogen fertilisation in Denmark, Animal manures, Nitrate leaching.
In Denmark there has been very tight regulation of the use of nitrogen (N) in agriculture since the 1980s. The use of mineral nitrogen in Denmark has decreased by 47% between 1989-91 and 2001, while the average decrease in the EU has been only 11%. The legislation concerning the use of nitrogen is based on N-quota at farm level, high requirement for utilisation of nitrogen in animal manure, fertiliser accounts for all farms, fines for the use of surplus nitrogen and a minimum area of cover crops.
The reason for the Danish legislation is to protect the ground water and the marine sea (especially the estuaries and other near-coastal sea) against eutrophication. Monitoring of the leaching of nitrogen from the root zone has shown a decrease between 1989 and 2001 of about 40%. No change is seen in the nitrate content in the upper ground-water, but a decrease in algae in the estuaries has been recognised. However there have been no recordings of a decrease in incidences of oxygen depletion in the sea; in fact this situation was very common in the summer of 2003.
For farmers the reduction in nitrogen use has resulted in lower yields. The consequence is lessened by a much better utilisation of animal manure, but for some farm types the decrease in income has been shown to be significant due to the lower yields and particularly due to a decrease of the protein content in grain.
Denmark has fulfilled all the demands of the EU Nitrate Directive and is the only nation, together with Sweden, to have done so. Now the Water Framework Directive is to be implemented and it may be a much tighter regulation and could be very serious for intensive agricultural production systems. In 2004 a new water environment protection plan will be decided by the Danish government.
Leif Knudsen, Senior Advisor, The Danish Agricultural Advisory Centre, Udaersvej 15, Skejby, 8200 Arhus N, Denmark.
26 Pages, 7 Figures, 11 Tables, 13 References.