The flow of nutrients on the European continent


Concepts of circularity demand that nutrients flows are circular, with a minimum amount of loss. Circularity in agriculture poses questions about the scale at which circularity is possible and how local production needs to be. Insights in current flows of nutrients may help to understand which nutrient cycles are broken and what the options are to restore circularity. For example, grains for Dutch bread are often sourced from elsewhere, whereas home-grown grains are mostly used as feed. Can we need to grow our own quality wheat for bread baking, and if so, what does this mean for current feed supply? Or do we need to change consumption patterns and promote traditional products like oats and rye bread? For tropical foods that we need for day-to-day addictions (coffee, chocolate) we do not have many alternatives. What are the options for circularity in these tropical production systems?

In this project, you will quantify sources and flows of foreign food for urban areas and feeds for animals in the Netherlands and the EU, differentiating between foods with an alternative within the EU and those without. You will quantify current N and P flows, evaluate limitations and provide options for a more circular agriculture. The objective of this study is to gain insight in current net nutrient flows and evaluate which technical measures are possible and which structural adjustments, with respect to the location of production, are providing solutions.

Useful references

I.J.M. de Boer, M.K. van Ittersum, 2019. Circularity in agricultural production. Wageningen University.

Conijn, J. G., P. S. Bindraban, J. J. Schröder and R. E. E. Jongschaap (2018). "Can our global food system meet food demand within planetary boundaries?" Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment251: 244-256.

Cordell, D., J. O. Drangert and S. White (2009). "The story of phosphorus: Global food security and food for thought." Global Environmental Change19(2): 292-305.

Sattari, S. Z. (2014). The legacy of phosphorus: agriculture and future food security.PhD thesis, Wageningen University.

Smit, A. L., J. C. van Middelkoop, W. van Dijk and H. van Reuler (2015). "A substance flow analysis of phosphorus in the food production, processing and consumption system of the Netherlands." Nutrient Cycling in Agroecosystems103(1): 1-13.


Agrosystems research


A successful completion of the course Analysing Sustainability of Farming Systems or QUALUS. Ability to use R or a strong interest in learning it is required.






Martin van Ittersum                0317-482382                 

Tom Schut                              0317-482454