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The Nitrates Directive

Recent studies commissioned by DG Environment to support implementation of the Directive

Over the years DG Environment has been collecting information on different aspects related to the implementation of the Nitrates Directive.

1. Study on variation of manure nitrogen efficiency throughout Europe

The objective of this study was to provide a detailed analysis of the differences in manure nitrogen efficiency definition and determination method used throughout the EU 27 with variations at regional levels if applicable.

The analysis supports the assessment of the action programmes, and in particular the measures aiming to guarantee a balance between crop nitrogen needs and nitrogen availability.

The specific objectives of the study were:

  1. To examine the current applicable manure nitrogen efficiency rates in the EU 27 by studying literature and contacting research centres in the Member States;
  2. To assess the figures in function of environmental and climatic conditions and agricultural practices;
  3. To analyse most effective measures and practices improving the manure nitrogen efficiency; and
  4. To provide a comprehensive overview of the current applied manure nitrogen efficiency rates throughout the EU and formulate most effective measures to improve manure nitrogen efficiency.

The results of the study are summarized in a report, annex 1 and annex 2.

2. The impact of the Nitrates Directive on gaseous nitrogen emissions

Effects of measures in nitrates action programme on gaseous nitrogen emissions

The study was a continuation of the 2007 analysis entitled "Integrated measures in agriculture to reduce ammonia emissions". The particular aim of this study was to explore further the effects on air emissions of some specific measures in nitrates action programmes.

The specific objectives of the study were:

  1. To assess the size of air emissions of ammonia (NH3), nitrogen oxides (NOx) and nitrous oxide (N2O) deriving from agriculture in each of the 27 Member States. But excluding emissions associated to livestock breeding (CH4; CO2);
  2. To assess quantitatively the impact of the measures listed in the Annex II and III of the Nitrates Directive on air emissions of ammonia, nitrogen oxides and nitrous oxide for each of the 27 Member States; and
  3. For each of the Member States to whom a derogation has been granted, assess the effects of the derogation on air emissions as compared to the standard scenario (no derogation - with a limit of 170 kg nitrogen/ha).

The results of the study are summarized in a report and its annex.

3. Manure processing activities in Europe

The study aims to make an inventory of the actual manure processing activities in the EU. The inventory indicate the amount of manure processed per MS and differentiated per type of manure, the scale of operations (farm scale – medium scale- industrial scale), the operational processing techniques and indicate the kind and general characteristics of end and by-products as well as their recovery markets.

The specific objectives of the study are:

  1. To inventory the manure processing activities per Member State, including a break down per type of manure, technique and scale of operation.
  2. To describe in detail the different operational techniques as well as techniques under development and identify the techniques that can be considered as best available techniques.
  3. To describe in detail the kind of end- and by- products produced (liquid fractions, solid fractions, concentrates, etc.) as well as their characteristics and recovery markets.
  4. To assess the economic feasibility and environmental performance of the most common techniques for both large and small scale installations including a few case studies.
  5. To estimate future trends of manure processing taking into account the entry into force of the Directive on renewable energies which may be a driver for the energy recovery of manure and the further implementation of the Nitrates Directive, the Water Framework Directive and the IPPC Directive

The results of the study are summarized in a report

4.  Recommendations for establishing Action Programmes under Directive

91/676/EEC concerning the protection of waters against pollution caused by nitrates from agricultural sources

The study aims to give an overview of processes that influence leaching and run off towards ground and surface waters and their link to farming practices. It also provides recommendations for each of the measures to be included in Action Programmes, according to the pedo climatic region in Europe, so to minimize risk of water pollution.

The specific objectives of the study are:

  1. Review and further differentiate the pedo-climatic zones in Europe: definition of pedoclimatic (sub) zones.
  2. A detailed analysis of the link between farming practices and the risks for leaching/run off towards waters and eutrophication processes.
  3. Recommendations for all measures to be included in the action programmes, differentiated for each pedo-climatic (sub) zone.

The results of the study are summarized in the following report.

5. Biogas and digestate

The expansion of biogas industry in Europe has determined agricultural changes, such as the increase in the cultivation of energy crops and the use of digestate on land. A questionnaire was circulated to the Members of the Nitrates Committee to better understand this topic in the different Member States. The outcomes of the questionnaire are summarised in the following document.

A study on the behaviour of digestate in agricultural soils was also commissioned, in order to review the existing knowledge in terms of plant availability, efficiency and risk of leaching/runoff. The outcome of this review is available in the following document.

6. Resource Efficiency in Practice - Closing Mineral Cycles

The project, which was financed by the European Parliament, looked at ways of managing nutrients efficiently at farm level to reduce nutrients' excess negative impacts.
The study addressed the EU-28 with a special focus on eight surplus regions and was divided in two main tasks:

1. The production of a report, including the identification of surplus regions and the state of the art on nutrients surpluses. The report also analyses the costs related to nutrients surpluses and a number of solutions and good practices which could be implemented in the surplus regions.

Final report
Annexes to the final report

2. The completion of a number of dissemination activities aimed at reaching out to relevant stakeholders. To this aim, four regional conferences in Ireland, Italy, Poland and Spain and a final conference in Brussels were organized in order to reach out to farmers and practitioners. As a final output also leaflets providing practical and region-specific guidance have been produced.

Leaflets: Brittany (France) [EN, FR], Central Denmark [EN, DK], Lombardy (Italy) [EN, IT], Murcia (Spain) [EN, ES], North-Brabant (the Netherlands) [EN, NL], Southern and Eastern Ireland [EN], Weser-Ems (Germany) [EN, DE], Wielkopolskie (Poland) [EN, PL]

Conference proceedings: Milan (Italy) [EN, IT], Murcia (Spain) [EN, ES], Portlaoise (Ireland) [EN], Poznan (Poland) [EN], and Final conference - Brussels (Belgium) [EN].

All conference materials are available at the link