Animal agriculture is shifting toward larger farms and regional agglomerations in many countries. In step with this development, manure nutrients have started accumulating regionally, and are leading to increasing eutrophication problems. Nevertheless, the same trend may also prompt innovations in manure treatment. For example, Valio Ltd (the largest dairy processer in Finland) is planning a network of facilities that would remove water from manure, fraction the nutrients in it, and produce biogas from the excess methane. One of the main hurdles in developing this technology is that the current regulatory framework does not support a shift from diffuse loading, which is seen in the traditional application of manure on fields, to point-source loading; the regulations may even prevent such a change. This article analyzes a governance framework that addresses this dilemma in EU–Finland, and discusses how the governance described could curtail the nutrient loading of agriculture to waters. The approach is based on adaptive governance theory. We argue that traditional top–down regulation, which emphasizes food security, contains serious shortcomings when it comes to managing agricultural nutrient loading to waters, and that the current regulatory framework does not necessarily have the adaptive capacity to facilitate new, bottom–up solutions for manure treatment. Interestingly, the strict water quality requirements of the EU Water Framework Directive (2000/60/EC) open new windows of opportunity for such solutions, and thus for improving the overall sustainability of animal agriculture.
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