Archive:Agri-environmental indicator - ammonia emissions

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Data extracted in September 2017

Planned article update: March 2020


In 2015, the EU agricultural sector emitted 3 751 kilotonnes of ammonia and was responsible for 94 % of total ammonia emissions across the region.

Between 1990 and 2015, emissions of ammonia from the EU agriculture sector decreased by 24 %.

Total and agricultural ammonia emissions, 1990-2015, EU-28
Source: European Environment Agency

This article provides a fact sheet of the European Union (EU) agri-environmental indicator ammonia emissions. It consists of an overview of recent data, complemented by all information on definitions, measurement methods and context needed to interpret them correctly. The ammonia emissions article is part of a set of similar fact sheets providing a complete picture of the state of the agri-environmental indicators in the EU.

Full article

General overview

In 2015, the EU-28 agricultural sector emitted a total of 3 751 kilotonnes of ammonia, and was responsible for 94 % of total ammonia emissions across the region (Table 1,EEA 2017a).

  • Emissions of ammonia from the agriculture sector have decreased by 24 % compared with 1990. This is mainly due to the reduction in livestock numbers (especially cattle), changes in the management of organic manures and from the decreased use of nitrogenous fertilisers.
  • The largest emission reductions between 1990 and 2015 have occurred in Bulgaria (-74 %), the Netherlands (-68 %), Latvia (-61 %) and Lithuania (-59 %). Only Spain (+12 %) and Ireland (+1.6 %) reported increased ammonia emissions during this period.
Table 1: Ammonia emissions from agriculture, 1990 and 2015, EU-28
(kilotonnes and %)
Source: European Environment Agency


Ammonia emissions from agriculture show slight short-term increase

Figure 1: Total and agricultural ammonia emissions, 1990-2015, EU-28
Source: European Environment Agency

Figure 2: Share of agriculture to total ammonia emissions, 2015, EU-28
Source: European Environment Agency

Within the EU-28, emissions of NH3 from agriculture have decreased by 24 % between 1990 and 2015 (Figure 1). The largest decrease in NH3 emissions occurred between 1990 and 1993 in the EU. Emissions of NH3 continued to decline in most years since, albeit gradually. From 2012 onwards, NH3 emissions from agriculture have slightly increased (+3 % from 2012 to 2015). The agriculture sector remains responsible for the vast majority of ammonia emissions within the EU-28, and was in 2015 responsible for 94 % (3 751 kilotonnes) of the total EU ammonia emissions (Figure 2). The majority of the reduction reported since 1990[1] is due to a combination of reduced livestock numbers across the EU-28 (especially cattle) (Figure 3), and the lower use of nitrogenous fertilisers in the EU-28 (Figure 4).

Figure 3: Change in numbers of livestock (index 1990 = 100), 1990-2015, EU-28
Source: European Environment Agency

Figure 4: Change in nitrogenous fertiliser applications, 1990-2015, EU-28
Source: European Environment Agency

Including emissions from all economic sectors, the EU-28 as a whole has met the 2010 NEC Directive 2001/81/EC emission ceilings for NH3 and the vast majority of EU-28 Member States also met their individual 2010 national targets on the basis of preliminary emissions data reported in 2017. Six Member States (Austria, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Spain and Sweden) report that they did not meet their NH3 ceiling (this is related to unadjusted emissions. The number of exceeded ceilings shown for Member States will be lower if the adjustment applications are approved by the EC)[2]

Several EU Member States have cut their emissions by half

Although the total decrease in agricultural ammonia emissions in the EU-28 was 24 % between 1990 and 2015, individual Member States had varying results (Figure 5). A number of Member States have achieved reductions in excess of 50 % during this period with Bulgaria (-74 %), the Netherlands (-68 %), Latvia (-61 %) and Lithuania (-59 %) reporting the largest decreases. In contrast, Spain has seen an increase of emissions of ammonia from agriculture by 12 % between 1990 and 2015.

Figure 5: Change in emissions of ammonia from agriculture, 1990-2015, EU-28
Source: European Environment Agency

The types of agricultural practice followed and the livestock populations influence the ammonia emissions of the country. As an ammonia emission abatement measure, manure spreading by broadcasting on the soil surface is being phased out in some Member States. It is replaced by application of slurries by injection or band spreading and rapid incorporation of manure into the soil. However, the side effect of this measure can be to increase the amount of mineral nitrogen retained in the soil that, under anaerobic conditions, could be emitted as N2O, a greenhouse gas[3]. However, not all studies have reported increases in N2O emission following injection of liquid manures[4] or immediate incorporation of litter-based solid manures[5]. Therefore, the impacts of ammonia abatement on N2O emission are highly uncertain. Incorporation of manure can also lead to increased nitrate leaching and subsequent pollution of water resources, although the impact on nitrate leaching is very dependent upon the season of manure application [6].

The share of ammonia emissions that occur from the agriculture sector are shown by Member State in Figure 6. In most EU-28 Member States agriculture contributes over 90 % of the total ammonia emissions. However, a number of Member States (Bulgaria, Croatia, the Netherlands, Portugal, Romania, Sweden, Latvia, Lithuania and the United Kingdom) report lower contributions due to a relatively larger proportion of ammonia emissions being reported from other sectors of their economies e.g. in Bulgaria from road transport, waste and industrial processes.

Figure 6: Contribution of agriculture sector to total national ammonia emissions, 2015, EU-28
Source: European Environment Agency

Figure 7 shows the amounts of ammonia emitted from the manure management and agricultural soils sub-sectors. Germany as the leading agriculture producer of the EU-28 is the largest emitter, emitting 19 % of all EU agricultural emissions of NH3 in 2015. France produced the second highest absolute emissions of ammonia after Germany, accounting for 17 % of the EU-28 agricultural total. Spain, Italy, Poland and the United Kingdom are also significant emitters of ammonia. Differences between countries are generally due to the types and numbers of livestock held within each country coupled with other factors previously described such as climatic, agricultural management, and stock feed differences.

Figure 7: Ammonia emissions from livestock manure and agricultural soils, 2015, EU-28
Source: European Environment Agency

Ammonia emissions per hectare of agricultural land

Figure 8 shows the aggregated emissions of agricultural NH3 expressed per utilised agricultural area (UAA). This analysis provides one measure of the intensity of agricultural activity within a country, and illustrates how the varying land use and agricultural practices across the EU-28 results in variations in emissions intensity. Four Member States; Malta, the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany have significantly higher emissions per UAA than the other EU-28 Member States.  

Figure 8: Aggregated emissions of agricultural ammonia per utilised agricultural area , 2015, EU-28
(kilogram per ha)
Source: European Environment Agency

Source data for tables and graphs

Data sources

Indicator definition

The indicator shows the annual atmospheric emissions of ammonia (NH3) in the EU-28 for 1990-2015, and the contribution agriculture made to total EU-28 emissions of NH3 in 2015.


Main indicator:

  • Ammonia emissions from agriculture (kilotonnes per year)

Supporting indicator:

  • Share of agriculture in total ammonia emissions (%)

Links with other indicators

This indicator has links to a number of other AEI indicators that describe developments in some of the main contributory factors that affect emissions of ammonia from the agricultural sector. In particular, the indicator "Ammonia emissions" is linked to following other indicators:

Data used and methodology

Ammonia emissions data for this indicator is based on official Member State data included in the 2017 official national data submission reported by the EU to the UNECE Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Atmospheric Pollution (LRTAP Convention). Livestock and fertiliser use data are from the 2017 official national greenhouse gas data submission from Member States under the EU Greenhouse Gas Monitoring Mechanism and EEA European Environment Information and Observation Network (EIONET). Data on the utilised agricultural area are from Eurostat annual crop statistics.

Under the agreed international guidelines for estimating emissions of greenhouse gases, countries are encouraged to use country-specific methods wherever possible as this leads to improved emission estimates. The different methods used by countries can sometimes mean that data are not fully comparable between countries. Care should therefore be taken when comparing the trends between countries. Data reported by countries on crop, livestock and use of mineral fertiliser to the air pollution and greenhouse gas inventories may not always follow the same methodology as official statistics published by Eurostat and differences may be noted.


Sustainable development and the integration of environmental considerations in all policy areas are key to reach long-term objectives for the EU, as expressed in the 7th Environment Action Programme and the EU Sustainable Development Strategy. Agriculture is one of the most important European economic sectors and the EU wants to ensure that agriculture remains sustainable and competitive. Therefore any negative effects which can affect human health and the environment are important to address such as, in this case, ammonia emissions, for which the agriculture sector is currently the main source.

Ammonia released to the atmosphere increases the level of air pollution. As a secondary particulate precursor, NH3 contributes to the formation of particulate aerosols in the atmosphere. Particulate matter is an important air pollutant due to its adverse impact on human health and NH3 is therefore indirectly linked to effects on human health. Once deposited to the ground, it increases the load of nitrogen in soils and waters. This contributes to acid deposition and eutrophication, which in turn, can lead to potential changes occurring in soil and water quality. The subsequent impacts of acid deposition can be significant, including adverse effects on aquatic ecosystems in rivers and lakes, and damage to forests, crops and other vegetation. Eutrophication can lead to severe reductions in water quality with subsequent impacts including decreased biodiversity, changes in species composition and dominance, and toxicity effects.

In 2010 rather large areas showed high exceedances of critical loads for nutrient nitrogen being at risk of eutrophication [7], especially in the western part of Europe, following the coastal regions from north-western France to Denmark. In southern Europe high exceedances are only found in northern Italy. Predictions until 2020 indicate that the risk of exceedances is high irrespective of whether it is assumed that the current policies and measures to reduce eutrophying nitrogen emissions will be fully implemented or if all technically and economically feasible additional policies are applied.

Policy relevance and context

A number of policy instruments have directly or indirectly affected the ammonia levels emitted by Member States. The main factors which have influenced EU emissions of ammonia from the agriculture sector since 1990 have been legislative instruments such as:

All three measures may be considered to have had the indirect effect of changing agricultural practices across the EU, and have, for instance, led to a reduced use of nitrogenous fertilisers and an overall decrease in cattle numbers across the EU, both examples of factors that affect the levels of ammonia emissions produced. For example, the earlier IPPC Directive now replaced by the IED Directive, requires businesses within Member States to take measures to reduce ammonia emissions. It applies to pig and poultry holdings if they have more than 2 000 production pig places (for pigs over 30 kg), 750 sow places or 40 000 poultry places. Pollution control is required for all large units since 2008. Subsequent reforms of CAP, and specifically the removal of the link between farm production and payments introduced by the 2003 reform, has resulted in reduced livestock numbers in the EU. Some countries have seen large decreases in livestock numbers for different reasons; among them the demand for compliance with EU standards for livestock farming and a changing market situation, which also indirectly contributed to the decrease in ammonia emissions observed.

Other non-legislative factors have also had impacts on EU agricultural practices. For example, trends in the farming sector are also linked to changes in economic framework conditions, technological and social trends as well as agricultural policies per se. Structural and management changes in the farming sector that are induced by market conditions (e.g. prices of different inputs, consumer demand for different types of meat) and technological development (e.g. introduction of manure management and application techniques, feed ration improvements) may also be regarded as important factors behind trends in agricultural ammonia emissions.

At the European level, there are two other instruments that target ammonia emissions, but across all economic sectors and not just the agriculture sector alone. These are:

  • the National Emission Ceilings Directive (NECD) (Directive 2016/2284/EU) requires Member States to report emission above ceilings (limits) from 2010 to 2019 and set new emission reduction commitment in terms of percentage reductions for years 2020 and 2030, relative to the base year 2005 (for NOx and sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and non-methane volatile organic carbons (NMVOC) without taking into account agriculture).
  • the Protocol to Abate Acidification, Eutrophication and Ground-level Ozone (Gothenburg Protocol) to the UNECE LRTAP Convention also required parties to have met emission ceilings by the year 2010. The protocol was amended in 2012. The ceilings set for 2010 and years thereafter are still in place, but the amended protocol also specifies new emission reduction commitments in terms of percentage reductions by 2020, relative to the base year 2005. All EU Member States are signatories to the Protocol except Malta and Estonia.

In addition to ammonia, both instruments also specify individual legally binding 2010 ceilings for sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and non-methane volatile organic carbons (NMVOCs).

Ammonia was also one of the pollutants included under the European Commission’s Clean Air for Europe programme (CAFE) that led to the development of the Thematic Strategy on Air Pollution under the 6th Environmental Action Programme in 2006. The aim of the Strategy was to develop long-term, strategic and integrated policy advice to protect against significant negative effects of air pollution on human health and the environment. The new National Emission Ceilings Directive requires Member States to report emission above ceilings (limits) from 2010 to 2019 and set new emission reduction commitment in terms of percentage reductions for years 2020 and 2030, relative to base year 2005 (for NOx and NMVOC without taking into account agriculture).

Agri-environmental context

In Europe, ammonia emissions mainly occur as a result of volatilisation from livestock excreta, whether this occurs from livestock housing, manure storage, urine and dung deposition in grazed pastures or after manure spreading into land. A smaller fraction of NH3 emissions result from the volatilisation of NH3 from nitrogenous fertilisers and from fertilised crops.

With regards to emissions from livestock excretions, the production of NH3 is closely related to livestock production levels. The characterisation of livestock numbers is therefore the basis of the national agricultural NH3 inventories. However, livestock numbers alone may be misleading if reductions in numbers are due to increased production per animal e.g. dairy cow numbers have decreased in many countries because more milk is being produced per cow. Hence more recent inventories also take account of changes in N excretion per animal. Emissions levels are generically calculated based on estimates of activity data (e.g. livestock numbers within a country) multiplied by an emission factor that links the level of emissions to the unit of activity data available. The emission factors used in these calculations are selected from either international guidance material or country-specific research that take into account the specific environmental and management factors applicable for the respective livestock units in their calculation. A number of different emission factors are therefore used for a given livestock species, which attempt to take into account the complex interactions that occur between the various combinations of environmental and management factors which exist. These factors lead to significant regional variations in emissions occurring and which often cannot be adequately reflected by use of default national methodologies to calculate emissions.

The amount of NH3 emitted by livestock can be a function of many variables, including:

  • properties of the animal manure (itself dependent on the animal feed, and species, age and weight of the animal);
  • for each animal type, the efficiency of the conversion of nitrogen in feed to livestock production (milk, eggs etc.) and hence the nitrogen remaining in the manure and the proportion of that N that is volatised;
  • type of animal housing system (liquid or litter-based manure management system);
  • manure storage system used (open or covered slurry tank);
  • proportion of time spent indoors or grazing by the animal;
  • soil properties; and
  • the method and rate of application of manure into agricultural land, including the time between application and incorporation.

The magnitude of NH3 emissions that occur as a result of the application of mineral nitrogenous fertilisers will similarly depend on many factors such as the type of fertiliser used, meteorological conditions and the time of fertiliser application in relation to the stage of crop canopy, the soil type and pH. Ammonia emissions emitted from the foliage of growing fertilised plants are generally related to the level of nitrogen fertiliser applied, However, NH3 emissions from decomposing plants are uncertain, and are difficult to calculate due to the variable emissions that occur from this source.

Where possible, countries are recommended to use country-specific emission factors. Country-specific values offer advantages compared to using default values from international guidance material[8] as they allow the differences between countries, with respect to environmental and agricultural practices, to be taken into account. Increasingly however, countries are performing research into developing, and subsequently using, regional-specific emission factors. However, research to develop and verify emission factors is both costly and time consuming and so there is still a general lack of experimental data on both, the national and European scales that would allow improved and more specific methods of calculating emissions to be developed. While the use of country and regional specific emission factors means a standard methodology is not used by all countries, and therefore the data from different countries cannot be that easily compared, the use of such specific factors is considered good practice in estimating emissions as it allows a more detailed, appropriate methodology to be applied that better reflects national circumstances.

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External links

Agriculture and Environment (aei)
Air pollutants by source sector (source: EEA) (env_air_emis)
Ammonia emissions by agriculture (tai07)


  1. EU greenhouse gas inventory
  2. European Union emission inventory report 1990 — 2015 under the UNECE Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution (LRTAP) Technical report No. 9/2017. European Environment Agency, Copenhagen.
  3. Olivier, J. G. J. Thomas, R., Brandes, L.J., Peters, J.A.H.W., and Coenen, P.W.H.G. (2002). Greenhouse gas emissions in the Netherlands 1990–2000. National Inventory Report 2002, RIVM Report 773201 006/2002, Bilthoven.
  4. Sommer, S. G., Sherlock, R. R., and Khan, R. Z. (1996). Nitrous oxide and methane emissions from pig slurry amended soils. Soil Biology and Biochemistry 28, 1541-1544.
  5. Webb, J., Chadwick, D., and Ellis, S. (2004). Emissions of ammonia and nitrous oxide following rapid incorporation of farmyard manures stored at different densities. Nutrient Cycling in Agroecosystems 70, 67-76
  6. Webb J, Henderson D, Anthony SA (2001) Optimising livestock manure applications to reduce nitrate and ammonia pollution: scenario analysis using the MANNER model. Soil Use and Management. 17, 188-94
  7. EEA (2014) Effects of air pollution on European ecosystems, Past and future exposure of European freshwater and terrestrial habitats to acidifying and eutrophying air pollutants, EEA Technical report No 11/2014, European Environment Agency.
  8. EMEP/EEA (2016). EMEP/EEA air pollutant emission inventory guidebook — 2016, EEA Report 21//2016. Copenhagen: European Environment Agency