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Sustainability 2014, 6(9), 5853-5875; doi:10.3390/su6095853

Agriculture and Eutrophication: Where Do We Go from Here?

1
School of Environment, Natural Resources and Geography, Bangor University, Bangor, Gwynedd LL57 2UW, UK
2
Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Crowmarsh Gifford, Wallingford, Oxon OX10 8BB, UK
3
Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute, Newforge Lane, Belfast BT9 5PQ, UK
These authors contributed equally to this work.
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Received: 25 June 2014 / Revised: 19 August 2014 / Accepted: 21 August 2014 / Published: 2 September 2014
(This article belongs to the Section Sustainable Use of the Environment and Resources)
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Abstract

The eutrophication of surface waters has become an endemic global problem. Nutrient loadings from agriculture are a major driver, but it remains very unclear what level of on-farm controls are necessary or can be justified to achieve water quality improvements. In this review article, we use the UK as an example of societies’ multiple stressors on water quality to explore the uncertainties and challenges in achieving a sustainable balance between useable water resources, diverse aquatic ecosystems and a viable agriculture. Our analysis shows that nutrient loss from agriculture is a challenging issue if farm productivity and profitability is to be maintained and increased. Legacy stores of nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) in catchments may be sufficient to sustain algal blooms and murky waters for decades to come and more innovation is needed to drawdown and recover these nutrients. Agriculture’s impact on eutrophication risk may also be overestimated in many catchments, and more accurate accounting of sources, their bioavailabilities and lag times is needed to direct proportioned mitigation efforts more effectively. Best practice farms may still be leaky and incompatible with good water quality in high-risk areas requiring some prioritization of society goals. All sectors of society must clearly use N and P more efficiently to develop long-term sustainable solutions to this complex issue and nutrient reduction strategies should take account of the whole catchment-to-coast continuum. However, the right balance of local interventions (including additional biophysical controls) will need to be highly site specific and better informed by research that unravels the linkages between sustainable farming practices, patterns of nutrient delivery, biological response and recovery trajectories in different types of waterbodies. View Full-Text
Keywords: eutrophication; algal blooms; agriculture; wastewater; nitrogen; phosphorus; mitigation; society eutrophication; algal blooms; agriculture; wastewater; nitrogen; phosphorus; mitigation; society
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This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY 3.0).

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MDPI and ACS Style

Withers, P.J.A.; Neal, C.; Jarvie, H.P.; Doody, D.G. Agriculture and Eutrophication: Where Do We Go from Here? Sustainability 2014, 6, 5853-5875.

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