Low surpluses of nitrogen and phosphate can lead to good economic results

Published on
July 24, 2014

LEI Wageningen UR has chartered the development in mineral surpluses and water quality of the Dutch dairy sector in relation to agricultural and environmental policy. The analysis shows that – on average – dairy farmers with relative low surpluses of nitrogen and phosphate have relative high economic results.

The article demonstrates the influence of agricultural policy through the years 1960 – 2010. In the 1960’s and 1970’s for example, the agricultural policy aimed at high productivity and low prices and not so much on environmental issues. This resulted in an increase of nitrogen and phosphate surpluses, which led to high nitrate levels in the groundwater and loading of the soil with phosphate. In order to solve these environmental problems in the years up to 2010, the level of nitrogen and phosphate in purchased fodder was lowered and the application of nitrogen and phosphate by chemical fertilisers was decreased by 65 to 90%.

Besides effects on groundwater and soils, agricultural policy also affected the milk production per head or per surface. After introducing the milk quota system in 1984, scale increase, specialisation and a decrease in the number of dairy farms continued. Although the number of cows dropped, the upscaling and intensification in the dairy sector increased the production per head and per surface.

The Dutch dairy sector operates more and more within European context. For example, to be able to use more manure, The Netherlands need to apply for permission at the European Commission. Member States are obliged to act upon action programmes for nitrate vulnerable areas and to monitor the level of nitrate pollution by agriculture.