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Open AccessArticle

Nitrogen Surplus—A Unified Indicator for Water Pollution in Europe?

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Coordination Unit Climate, Johann Heinrich von Thünen-Institute, 38116 Braunschweig, Germany
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Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI), Belfast BT9 5PX, Northern Ireland, UK
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Department of Physics and Technology, National Research and Development Institute for Soil Science, Agrochemistry and Environment, 011464 Bucharest, Romania
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Nitrates, Biodiversity and Engineering Division, Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Y35PN52 Wexford, Ireland
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Department of Agroecology, Aarhus University, DK-8830 Tjele, Denmark
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Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL), 5070 Frick, Switzerland
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Biotechnical Faculty, University of Ljubljana, 1000 Ljubljana, Slovenia
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Research and Advisory Board on Sustainable Fertilization and ILVO Plant, 9820 Merelbeke, Belgium
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Department of Environment, Faculty of Bioscience Engineering, UGent, 9000 Gent, Belgium
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Research and Advisory Board on Sustainable Fertilization, 9820 Merelbeke, Belgium
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Polytechnic Institute of Coimbra (IPC), Coimbra Agrarian Higher School (ESAC), Research Centre for Natural Resources, Environment and Society (CERNAS), 3045-093 Coimbra, Portugal
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Bureau de Recherches Geologiques et Minieres (BRGM), 45060 Orléans, France
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Environmental Research, Wageningen University and Research, 6700 AA Wageningen, The Netherlands
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Authors to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Water 2020, 12(4), 1197; https://doi.org/10.3390/w12041197
Received: 10 March 2020 / Revised: 14 April 2020 / Accepted: 15 April 2020 / Published: 22 April 2020
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Land Use and Water Quality)
Pollution of ground-and surface waters with nitrates from agricultural sources poses a risk to drinking water quality and has negative impacts on the environment. At the national scale, the gross nitrogen budget (GNB) is accepted as an indicator of pollution caused by nitrates. There is, however, little common EU-wide knowledge on the budget application and its comparability at the farm level for the detection of ground-and surface water pollution caused by nitrates and the monitoring of mitigation measures. Therefore, a survey was carried out among experts of various European countries in order to assess the practice and application of fertilization planning and nitrogen budgeting at the farm level and the differences between countries within Europe. While fertilization planning is practiced in all of the fourteen countries analyzed in this paper, according to current legislation, nitrogen budgets have to be calculated only in Switzerland, Germany and Romania. The survey revealed that methods of fertilization planning and nitrogen budgeting at the farm level are not unified throughout Europe. In most of the cases where budgets are used regularly (Germany, Romania, Switzerland), standard values for the chemical composition of feed, organic fertilizers, animal and plant products are used. The example of the Dutch Annual Nutrient Cycling Assessment (ANCA) tool (and partly of the Suisse Balance) shows that it is only by using farm-specific “real” data that budgeting can be successfully applied to optimize nutrient flows and increase N efficiencies at the farm level. However, this approach is more elaborate and requires centralized data processing under consideration of data protection concerns. This paper concludes that there is no unified indicator for nutrient management and water quality at the farm level. A comparison of regionally calculated nitrogen budgets across European countries needs to be interpreted carefully, as methods as well as data and emission factors vary across countries. For the implementation of EU nitrogen-related policies—notably, the Nitrates Directive—nutrient budgeting is currently ruled out as an entry point for legal requirements. In contrast, nutrient budgets are highlighted as an environment indicator by the OECD and EU institutions. View Full-Text
Keywords: nitrogen budget; nitrogen balance; water pollution; nitrates; agriculture; drinking water nitrogen budget; nitrogen balance; water pollution; nitrates; agriculture; drinking water
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Klages, S.; Heidecke, C.; Osterburg, B.; Bailey, J.; Calciu, I.; Casey, C.; Dalgaard, T.; Frick, H.; Glavan, M.; D’Haene, K.; Hofman, G.; Leitão, I.A.; Surdyk, N.; Verloop, K.; Velthof, G. Nitrogen Surplus—A Unified Indicator for Water Pollution in Europe? Water 2020, 12, 1197.

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