Nitrogen (N) management in the 'De Marke' dairy farming system

H.F.M. Aarts, B. Habekotté, H. van Keulen

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85 Citations (Scopus)


In the sandy regions of The Netherlands, high losses of N from intensified dairy farms are threatening the environment. Therefore, government defined decreasing maximum levy-free N surplusses for the period 1998–2008. On most dairy farms, the current N surplus has to be reduced by half at least. Farmers fear that realizing these surplusses will be expensive, because it limits application of animal manure, which then has to be exported or additional land has to be bought. Moreover, farmers are worried about the impact on soil fertility. To explore the possibilities for reducing surplusses of average intensive farms by improved nutrient management, farming systems research is carried out at prototype farm De Marke. Results are compared with results of a commercial farm in the mid-1980s, the moment that systems research started and introduction of the milk quota system put a halt to further intensification. Results indicate that average intensive farms can realise a reduction in N surplus to a level below the defined final maximum, without the need to buy land or to export slurry. Inputs of N in purchased feeds and fertilisers decreased by 56 and 78%, respectively. Important factors are reduced feed intake per unit milk, as a result of a higher milk yield per cow, less young stock and judicious feeding, an improved utilization of home-made manure and a considered balance between the grassland and maize area. Changed soil fertility status did not constrain crop production. Nitrate concentration in the upper groundwater decreased from 200 to 50 mg l-1, within a few years.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)231-240
JournalNutrient Cycling in Agroecosystems
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2000



  • dairy farming
  • sandy soils
  • nitrogen
  • soil water
  • leaching
  • netherlands
  • gelderland

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