Integrated assessment of promising measures to decrease nitrogen losses from agriculture in EU-27

O. Oenema, H.P. Witzke, Z. Klimont, J.P. Lesschen, G.L. Velthof

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Following the recognition of the detrimental effects of nitrogen (N) losses from agriculture in the European Union (EU) on human health and environment, series of environmental policy measures have been implemented from the early 1990s onwards. However, these measures have only been partially successful. Clearly, there is lack of integration of available measures and there is lack of enforcement and hierarchy; which measures should be implemented first? We identified and assessed three ‘most promising measures’ to decrease N losses from agriculture, i.e., (i) balanced fertilization, (ii) low-protein animal feeding, and (iii) ammonia (NH3) emissions abatement measures. Environmental-economic assessments were made using scenario analyses and the modeling tools MITERRA-EUROPE and CAPRI. In the baseline scenario (business as usual), N use efficiency (NUE) in crop production increases from 44% in 2000 to 48% in 2020, while total N losses decrease by 10%. Implementation of promising measures increases NUE further to 51–55%, and decreases NH3 emissions (by up to 23%), nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions (by up to 10%) and N leaching losses (by up to 35%). Differences in responsiveness to promising measures varied between and within Member States. Strict implementation of balanced fertilization in nitrate vulnerable zones, as defined in the Nitrates Directive, decreases total farmers’ income in EU-27 by 1.7 billion euros per year. Implementation of all three measures decreases farmers income by 10.8 and total welfare by 17 billion euros per year, without valuing the environmental benefits. The study presented here is one of the first EU-wide integrated assessments of the effects of policy measures on all major N losses from agriculture and their economic costs. Our results show that the most promising measures are effective in enhancing NUE and decreasing NH3 and N2O emissions to the atmosphere and N leaching to groundwater and surface waters, but that income effects are significant. The order of implementation of the measures is important; NH3 emissions abatement measures must be implemented together with balanced N fertilization.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)280-288
JournalAgriculture, Ecosystems and Environment
Issue number3-4
Publication statusPublished - 2009


  • use efficiency
  • management
  • nitrate
  • soil


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