Nitrogen Use (incl. EU NEP)

Nitrogen is essential for life and plays a key role in food production.

Crops require an adequate supply of nutrients for healthy growth and to maintain satisfactory yields and product quality. The growth and harvest of a crop removes these nutrients from the soil’s reserves, which then must be replenished. 

However, unless preventative measures are taken, nitrogen losses to the atmosphere can occur when these latter products are progressively transformed into the nitrate form in the soil. This increases emissions from the field, reduces their nitrogen-use efficiency and it is harmful for our ecosystems and health. The management of nitrogen is therefore important, especially in agriculture, which is the biggest user of nitrogen in the world.

With the objective to reduce water pollution from loss of nitrogen from agricultural activities the European Union adopted in 1991 the EU Nitrates Directive which was complemented in 2000 by the Water Framework Directive. The directives promote the use of several good agricultural practices to prevent the loss of nitrogen into the environment.

Nitrogen is the most important crop-yield limiting factor in the world, together with water. Nitrogenous fertilizers contain the essential crop nutrient nitrogen (N) in a high-quality mineral form that can be applied with precision for sustainable agricultural production.

Nitrogen management in agriculture aims at achieving agronomic objectives (farm income, high crop and animal productivity) and environmental objectives (minimal N losses) simultaneously.

Nitrogen Management within the new CAP post 2020

The inclusion of Farm Sustainability Tool for nutrient management in the proposal for the next CAP reform is a major step. The Farm Sustainability Tool for Nutrients was proposed by the EU with the aim to enable a platform for on-farm nutrient management that would help reduce ammonia and N2O emissions from the agriculture sector and improve water quality in Europe. Such a tool would compile information from satellite data, soil sampling and land parcel information and would be directly accessible to farmers in order to help them make informed decisions on nutrient requirements.

Concerning nitrogen management, Fertilizers Europe propose to build on the work of the European Nitrogen Expert Panel, who developed the Nitrogen Use Efficiency (NUE) indicator. This indicator is based on nitrogen input and nitrogen output at different levels and provides information about resource use efficiency, the economy of food production (nitrogen in harvested yield), and the pressure on the environment (nitrogen surplus).